Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) have always been modeled around life-saving equipment, with isolettes in one big room that leave little privacy for parent-infant bonding or confidential medical discussions.

Today, evidence is mounting to suggest that premature babies thrive better in private rooms than in group areas with harsher lights, louder noises and more traffic.

"These NICUs support involvement of family in the care and nurturing of the infant," Susan Reinarz, R.N., president-elect of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses ( and a nurse practitioner at Pediatrix Medical Group of Texas in Fort Worth, tells Health Facilities Management's sister publication, Hospitals & Health Networks. "There is, however, an impact on staffing and utilization of nursing resources that takes careful planning."

Still, private NICUs are gaining acceptance and many hospitals have designs under way.

Michele Walsh, M.D., medical director of the new $25 million NICU at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, says that providing care in a safe manner through intensive monitoring and state-of-the-art communications was a high priority.

"When multiple infants are cared for in the same room, every infant is subjected to the alarms and activity associated with the care of the sickest," she explains. "High noise and activity disrupt sleep patterns and increase stress levels, which ultimately compromises healing."