Gift to support important redesign of Newborn Intensive Care Unit

February 12, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. – A couple from California, touched by stories of the exemplary care given to newborns and their families at UMass Memorial Medical Center, has made an anonymous donation of $1 million towards an important redesign of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, a gift that will further the lifesaving care provided to patients from throughout Central New England. This gift represents half of the cost of the capital improvements in the NICU; UMass Memorial is actively seeking additional support for the $2 million project as the NICU celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

The donors learned of the NICU through Brian and June Carroll of Worcester, whose son Brendan was born prematurely in 1999 and was gravely ill, weighing just two pounds at birth. The Carrolls have been active supporters of the NICU since then, working to raise funds for the hospital so that every child could have the same chance their son has had to grow into a healthy youngster. In 2002 Brian Carroll, who is president of Carroll Enterprises, Inc. in Worcester, formed “Brendan’s Buddies,” a team of friends who began running the Boston and New York marathons to raise money to purchase specialized equipment for the NICU; “Brendan’s Buddies” have since run 30 marathons and three Ironman Challenges. Brian Carroll has become a vocal advocate for the NICU and June Carroll has been an active volunteer in the unit.

“This incredibly generous gift from our anonymous donors has motivated others, energizing everyone in the NICU and all who have experienced the great work done there,” said Mr. Carroll. “This wonderful couple was inspired by our commitment: whether it was my running or my wife June’s volunteer service at the NICU, they wanted to help save lives and challenged our community to help. ‘Brendan’s Buddies’ will continue to run so these tiny, at-risk infants can one day run marathons themselves.”

“Through such a remarkable gift, these generous donors will touch the lives of hundreds of families in our region who rely on the Newborn Intensive Care Unit,” said John G. O’Brien, CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care. “They can take great pride in knowing that their support will make a tremendous impact on our patients.”

The NICU—a division within the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center—was founded in 1974 and is the region’s only Level III NICU. Since then it has served more than 17,000 fragile newborns and their families from across Central New England and beyond, and has earned a national reputation for its unique philosophy of family-centered care, in which family members are an integral part of their child’s care team. For 35 years the dedicated staff of the NICU—from the region’s only high-risk obstetricians to highly skilled neonatologists, fellows and specially trained nurses—have been caring for the tiniest and most critically ill infants. The UMass Memorial NICU was ranked one of the top 25 NICUs in a Vermont Oxford Network database of more than 600 such centers worldwide and was recognized for having one of the highest survival rates with the least morbidities.

A critical component of the NICU’s philosophy is the physical environment in which care is provided: lights are low, colors are muted and noises are minimized in an effort to create as soothing and calm an atmosphere as possible, mimicking the protective environment of the womb. Although the overall square footage of the NICU will not expand, the redesign of the unit will create six private rooms for the most acutely ill infants and further reduce the external stimuli that can be stressors for newborns. Currently the NICU is arranged in “pods” with a more open floor plan that allows for the flow of the many medical staffers and family members who are an integral part of the care team. Such a layout has worked well over the NICU’s history and in many ways helps parents feel connected to each other.

“We’ve always sought ways to enhance our family-centered environment, and the addition of private rooms in the NICU will allow parents to stay in the hospital around the clock with their infants,” said Francis J. Bednarek, MD, Chief of Neonatology and Director of the Neonatology Fellowship at UMass Memorial. “Current thinking on NICU design is moving towards all private rooms to increase individualized environmental control in terms of noise and light sensitivity. Private space also promotes parent and child bonding, which is critical.”

“The single rooms will also allow us to perform more surgical procedures right in the NICU rather than in the operating room,” said neonatologist Stuart A. Weisberger, MD. “Moving the child from one environment to the other can add physiological stresses; we’ll be able to avoid much of that when the new design is implemented.”

“The Children’s Medical Center is very grateful to the Carroll Family for facilitating this most generous donation for our NICU,” said Marianne E. Felice, MD, Chair of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief of the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center. “We are in awe of these remarkable donors from California who were willing to reach across the continent and make this incredible gift to benefit infants of Central Massachusetts. This wonderful act speaks volumes about the quality of care provided by our NICU physicians and staff.”

The S/L/A/M Collaborative, a national firm specializing in healthcare environment design, has been hired to redesign the NICU. Construction is expected to begin late this spring; due to concerns regarding construction noise, the project will be spread over a longer period of time than it would be if the NICU were unoccupied. The redesign is projected to be complete by May, 2010.

About UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center
UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center is a “hospital within a hospital” providing comprehensive services to children throughout the region. With more than 100 medical and surgical specialists skilled in and devoted to the care of children, the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center offers a full range of care to infants, children and adolescents in a close-to-home environment that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of families. The Center was recently accepted into the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions, a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and well-being of children and their families through support of children’s hospitals and health systems that are committed to excellence in providing health care to children.