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Overlake Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Opens to First Tiny Patients

Overlake Hospital officially moved its first patients to its new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Monday.

New mom Lacy Nichols of Redmond is happy that she can spend the night with her newborn son, Josiah, who was born premature at 32 weeks.

Josiah, who was due Dec. 24 but was born Nov. 2, is the first little patient who was moved to Overlake Hospital's new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Monday.

Nichols, her husband Jeremy Nichols, and their parents have been staying at Overlake at Josiah's side -- "Ths is our other home," she said -- but they haven't been able to spend the night because of the lack of room in the old Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- also known as a NICU.

"I have been waiting for this day, that I could start staying the night," Nichols said.

The hospital opened its NICU, built by Bellevue's GLY Construction, earlier this month, but the first babies were moved in on Monday. The $3.6 million project started construction in an existing wing of the hospital in May 2012.

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Babies who are born premature need extra attention and specialized care during their hospital stay. 

About 4,000 babies are born at Overlake each year, according to hospital officials, and about 400 babies are treated at at the NICU, many of whom are born premature, before the full gestation period. The Overlake NICU is run in a partnership between Overlake Hospital and specialists at Seattle Children's Hospital, according to Overlake officials.

The NICU has been expanded to allow for 18 infants at a time, four more than the old one could accommodate, and was designed to keep families as close to their children as possible, according to the hospital. Eventually, the hospital will be able to care for children who are born as early as 26 weeks.

The NICU now has private rooms for each baby, with improved sound-proofing. Rooms are 50 percent larger than those in the former NICU, according to the hospital, which allows for more room for family members who are staying by each baby's side.

As well as new cribs, ventilators, and monitors, the rooms have furniture that can fold out into beds so visiting moms and dads can spend the night, and a reclining chair where moms can "kangaroo" their premature babies. The old NICU rooms did not have room for a chair in each unit.

The new NICU rooms also have windows, which the previous ward did not have. 

"It is important for the babies to know night and day, and sun is important for everybody," said nurse Lynne Saunders, the manager of the NICU.

The hospital staff in the old window-less unit had to simulate day and night by darkening the rooms as best they could, she said.

The NICU staff also designed the units alongside the architects, GBJ of Portland, to figure out the best way to configure the space and the walls for all the medical needs of the tiny patients, Saunders said. 

"It's a gorgeous unit," she said.

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