When ChristianaCare announced plans in 2015 to transform care for women and infants in the greater Delaware region through a new Center for Women’s & Children’s Health, no one imagined that the new facility would be opening in the midst of a pandemic.

Despite the challenges of coronavirus COVID-19, the Center for Women’s & Children’s Health opened on schedule, April 27, welcoming women and babies with a transformative new model of care and a beautiful new space that’s built for families.

“At ChristianaCare, we are guided by our values, excellence and love, and we have filled the Center for Women’s & Children’s Health with both,” said President and CEO Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH. “With expert care in an environment that is at once innovative and tranquil, we are transforming care for women and families. This facility represents a new standard of care for our community.”

The artwork and color palette in the lobby and throughout the building are inspired by the Delaware Estuary. The lobby artwork, with natural elements like sand dollars and leaves, echoes colors on the upper floors.

A nurturing place for women and families

Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH

The Center for Women’s & Children’s Health is an eight-story, approximately 400,000 square foot tower at Christiana Hospital, at ChristianaCare’s Newark campus. A $260 million investment in the community, the Center is designed to support and enhance the most up-to-date, evidence-based models of care, with improved integration of services and the space to offer innovative patient-centered care for mothers, babies and families.

“Thank you to the many generous members of our community who have supported the creation of this Center and the health of women and children in our community, including Anesthesia Services, P.A., Crystal Trust, Delaware Subaru, Delmarva Power, Doctors for Emergency Services, the Junior Board of ChristianaCare, M&T Bank, Ronald McDonald House of Delaware and Skanska USA,” Dr. Nevin said.

One of the most significant features of the new Center is a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), featuring private rooms with sleep-in space for families. It’s one of the only hospitals in the United States to provide “couplet care” in the NICU, keeping the mother and baby together even if they both require medical care. This is based on a European model demonstrating that moms are more likely to breastfeed in this environment, which is particularly important in the early development of children.

A tranquil family rooftop garden provides spaces for play and relaxation at the Center for Women’s & Children’s Health.

Other innovative features at the Center include:

  • New and expanded labor and delivery suites.
  • Private rooms for mothers and families after delivery.
  • A spacious, multi-level Ronald McDonald Room to support families with infants who are in intensive care.
  • Expanded OB/GYN emergency services area and new labor lounge.
  • Separate admitting and discharge areas for the convenience of our patients.
  • A tranquil family rooftop garden that provides spaces for play and relaxation.
  • Vibrant sibling play spaces with interactive displays and artwork, and open community spaces for health education and programs.
Briana Thomkins and her newborn daughter Aria, among the first babies born in the new Center for Women’s & Children’s Health.

“It’s kind of like you’re in a resort,” said new mom Briana Thompkins, who was among the first to experience the Center for Women’s & Children’s Health. “Everything is so fancy and new.”

The completion of the Center on time despite the pandemic was the result of exceptional teamwork and focus throughout the project.

“Babies don’t wait, and neither does the need for the very best care,” said Sharon Kurfuerst, Ed.D., OTR/L, FACHE, FAOTA, FABC, system chief operating officer. “This more than just a building; it’s where we can transform health for mothers and children. I am proud of our exceptional caregivers who pulled together to achieve this important milestone for ChristianaCare and our community, while at the same time rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been an extraordinary time.”

The Center, designed by HKS and built by Skanska, was developed in partnership with patients and families.

All post-partum rooms are private, with sleep-in space for families.

The artwork and color palette throughout the building are inspired by the Delaware Estuary, a natural ecosystem that is vital to life. The Delaware Estuary theme — featured in photography and artwork of flowers, leaves, sand dollars and water lilies; curving and flowing shapes; soothing colors and natural light — represents beauty, joy, healing and the circle of life.

Healthy babies, healthy community

Christiana Hospital is one of the highest-volume delivering hospitals in the region, delivering more than 6,000 babies each year.

“In this new Center, we are supporting the optimal health of the women and children we serve,” said Mary Beth Lahey, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, vice president of patient care services for Women’s & Children’s. “The Center for Women’s & Children’s Health integrates health and support services in seamless ways, providing an exceptional experience for families in Delaware and the region.”

The couplet care model, keeping mothers and babies together, guided design throughout the facility. The building features spacious private rooms for mothers, babies and families after birth with comfortable sleep-in space for the new father or partner.

The state-of-the-art NICU features private rooms with sleep-in space for families. ChristianaCare is one of the only hospitals in the U.S. to provide “couplet care” in the NICU, keeping the mother and baby together even if they both require medical care.

Twins Gianna and Roni were the first babies in the new NICU.

“It’s nice I can even be here, spend time with them,” said their mother Janet Roth. “Obviously they’re still so little, but it’s great I can even be a presence in the room.”

The new NICU is designed with sound-absorbing flooring, climate-controlled nursery alcoves and other amenities that create a calm, quiet, private place for families.

“The first step in being a healthy adult is being a healthy baby and healthy child,” said David Paul, M.D., chair of Pediatrics. “Health starts right at birth. How you do at birth and how you do in those early years makes an impact throughout your life. We want to keep moms, babies and our community healthy, and this new facility enables us to do that better than ever.”

The Center is also designed to support ChristianaCare’s focus on wellness and on reducing the serious and complex problems of infant mortality, neonatal abstinence syndrome, maternal mortality and post-partum depression. The design of the facility itself, as well as the design of the care that ChristianaCare provides inside and outside its walls, is addressing these challenging issues head-on.

The multi-level Ronald McDonald Family Room provides a place of rest for our families with children in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and offers snacks, coffee, and a reading nook for families with young siblings to enjoy. A monthly dinner for families is provided by generous donations from the community.

“We are especially attuned to the changing needs of women across generations and how to engage women before, during and after they walk through our doors,” said Matthew Hoffman, M.D., MPH, FACOG, Marie E. Pinizzotto, M.D., Endowed Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Our community relies on us — and can count on us — to lead the way in women’s and children’s health.”

Serving together to move during a pandemic

After five years of planning, then four weeks of additional planning to support special safety precautions against the coronavirus, 88 patients (29 women and 59 babies) were moved on schedule from the post-partum, antepartum, high-risk and neonatal intensive care units to the new Center for Women’s & Children’s Health.

Over the course of four days — April 27 to April 30 — in strategically timed slots, women were rolled in wheelchairs or on stretchers and babies moved in their bassinettes or isolettes from the A/B Tower at Christiana Hospital to the new adjoining Center for Women’s & Children’s Health. Each patient was moved individually with one or more caregivers to accompany them, and moms and babies were moved together whenever possible.

Reflection Hallway is a family-friendly space off the lobby, offering a separate covered exit for patients at discharge so families can take their time when leaving.

Babies in the NICU travelled with their care team, at least one nurse and a respiratory therapist and sometimes as many as six caregivers. “It was emotional and so heart-warming,” said Billie Speakman, campus operations officer, Newark. “This part of the move was the most impactful for staff, with moms Facetiming their husbands from the elevator to accommodate limited visitation during the pandemic.”

In the midst of the move, three micro-preemies — twins at 25 weeks and a baby at 24 weeks — were born in existing building and brought directly to the NICU in the new Center.

Well-practiced tabletop simulations and mock simulations proved so successful that the moves went like clockwork, and even ahead of schedule. Preparations for “what-ifs” related to the pandemic (“What if we need to open a floor or wing earlier? What if there is a surge in capacity?”) were in place, but not needed.

Each patient arrival was a cause for celebration with moms, family members and staff cheering and dancing, with a finale of “We Are Family” when the last patient moved in on April 30.

Once in the new Center, each adult patient had an ambassador from Patient Experience assigned to her, to help her orient to the unit and to safely limit the number of caregivers needing to enter a patient room.

It was a smooth transition, Speakman said. “The team — every nurse, every doctor, every clinical and essential services team member — knew they were transporting precious cargo and took every precaution,” she said. “By serving together, we successfully transitioned new families to a new building without missing a beat.”

And just in time. The first baby was born in the new building on May 1.

Learn more about Women’s & Children’s Health at ChristianaCare.