New neonatal ICU to open at downtown hospital

(Photo by Danijel Durkovic on Unsplash)

A new neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Toronto will provide over 12,000 square feet of facility space for Ontario’s youngest patients and their families. 

With help from the province, Unity Health Toronto will relocate their NICU to St. Michael’s Hospital, setting up operations in a new patient care tower.

The project is designed to support a number of improved health outcomes. The new facility will feature “enhanced infection prevention and control measures,” and more private rooms to create “lower stimulus environments for newborn patients.”

In a press release, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones discussed why the funding is important and how it fits within the government’s broader healthcare policy. “By investing in improvements to St. Michael’s NICU, newborn patients and their families can receive the highest standard of care during their most critical time,” she says. “Our government is making record investments in Ontario’s hospitals to connect more people to care closer to home.”

The investment has sparked support from key stakeholders, with Unity Health Toronto President and CEO Tim Rutledge commenting “this investment from the Ontario government […] will allow us to improve the care and health outcomes for babies requiring the highest level of care, and the care experiences of their families.”

Dr. Rebecca Pillai Riddell, a professor and researcher at York, welcomes the investment. “I think it’s just good news to have another NICU to serve people in southwestern Ontario,” she tells Excalibur. Pillai Riddell is the director of York’s OUCH Lab (Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt), and conducts much of her research in NICUs of major hospitals across the region and beyond. 

When asked why this project is needed now, Pillai Riddell says it’s in large part because of the changing field of pediatric medicine. “The rate of prematurity is increasing, [that is] how many people are born less than 37 weeks, and especially when we’re thinking about NICU care, even younger, so this site investment is important,” she explains. “Medical science is changing the age of viability. Not only are babies being born earlier, they’re surviving at younger and younger ages, and so neonatal intensive care is a critical piece of that.”

The structure of a NICU space is especially important, she believes, because staff need to focus on supporting the infant patient as well as their family. “It’s a trauma for the baby and the mother ,the father, and the family,” says Pillai Riddell. She also explains that privacy is a key concern: “Spaces that are more private that can be able to support the family are critical.” 

While the new NICU at St. Michael’s does aim to provide this type of privacy, Pillai Riddell says the hospital’s location can be a concern for some. “It’s great to have another NICU in Toronto, don’t get me wrong, but many people have to travel outside of their community, from outside of Toronto to come get that specialized care.” 

A long drive from a more rural part of the province could add more stress to an already stressful situation. Pillai Riddell believes that whether or not people have access to medical care in their own community can make all the difference in whether they are “supported or overwhelmed by the NICU experience.”

Overall, Pillai Riddell is excited about any investment that supports neonatal intensive care. With NICUs, “babies can be saved,” she concludes, and that is an exciting prospect.

About the Author

By Hale Mahon

Health Editor

Hale is a third year student in Public Administration with a Minor in Psychology. He loves politics and sits on a few boards and committees at York, including the Student Centre Board of Directors, the Student Council for LA&PS, and the university’s academic senate. As health editor, he wants to see how medical and scientific research can inform political and organizational decisions, and believes that well-communicated science can improve outcomes for everyone. Outside of work, he enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, camping, photography, and watching 90’s sitcoms.


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