Rebecca Van Hout holds her son, Benjamin, Friday at the unveiling of Rogue Valley Medical Center’s new neonatal intensive care unit in Medford. Benjamin spent 29 days in the hospital’s old NICU after being born six weeks early. - Julia Moore

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Rogue Valley Medical Center's new state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit was unveiled to the public Friday and will open to families of premature babies on Sept. 7.

The revamped NICU is a $6 million project that took years to complete.

The path to the improved NICU featured a few "bumps" along the way, but the end result was worth the money and effort, said Michele Strickland, RVMC's clinical manager for children's services.

"We are excited for the patients and the staff," Strickland said. "This is a great time at the hospital."

The new NICU will increase patient capacity from 20 to more than 32 babies and will provide a more family-friendly atmosphere with private rooms and additional space to allow parents to stay overnight with their babies.

The NICU cares for premature babies in a nine-county area stretching from Lakeview to Roseburg to Crescent City, Calif. Since 2004, the average daily number of babies in the NICU has grown from just more than 15 to 19.

Strickland said NICUs with private rooms are better for premature babies because they are not kept in large rooms with other children. The risk of infections is lowered, she said.

Rebecca Van Hout and her baby, Benjamin, were on hand for the opening tour. Benjamin was born six weeks early and with a case of jaundice in April. He spent 29 days in the old NICU until he was healthy enough to leave the hospital.

"It was a very scary time," Van Hout said. "But when you are in this (NICU) you are in good hands."

Van Hout said the extra privacy the renovated wing will provide will help new parents with premature babies deal with the stress and fear of the situation.

"This NICU will give parents a place to decompress and a private place to bond with your baby," she said. "In the old NICU you had other families right next to you with only a curtain separating everyone."

The private rooms will include couches with pull-out beds so parents can stay with their babies over night. The new rooms will include large windows and other comforts that will make a stressful hospital stay more tolerable.

The remodeling caused upheaval in the hospital. The NICU is sandwiched between two functioning wings of the hospital, making a noisy place for patients as workers used saws and sanders to replace the floors and ceiling, Strickland said.

"We are glad it's completed and we can get back to normal around here," she said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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