HONOLULU -- The completion of the first of a two-phased renovation project for the first in the military and first on-island single room Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Tripler Army Medical Center was celebrated with a blessing and lei ceremony, here, April 3.

In her opening remarks, Col. (Dr.) Sarah Lentz-Kapua, chief, Pediatric Inpatient Services, spoke of the years-long process of making the Patient Centered-Family Centered NICU a reality.

"Ten years ago, in 2002, I made my initial request to the command at that time, for a little more space and a true renovation of our 1989 vintage NICU and was given approval to move forward.

"Having to build in two phases has proven a challenge, but babies had to be left in place during construction of phase one. Our short-term goal was to build using the then relatively new concept of Patient Centered-Family Center care," Lentz-Kapua said. "The long-term goal was to have a brand new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We spent countless hours with multiple consultants, bright minds from outside and inside the hospital who worked diligently to come up with the state-of-the-art design and the state-of-the-art technology to make this NICU one of the safest patient care areas on the island."

Patricia Wilhelm, nurse manager, NICU, echoed Dr. Lentz-Kapua words when she spoke of the long hours of planning.

"From the very beginning, this has been a collaboration between the physicians, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, the pharmacists, (and) the social workers. Everybody has had a say in how we designed it, from the very beginning in 2007 to where we are at today.

"Every one of my nurses has trained on every piece of equipment, every device and participated in an eight-hour simulation training, which was phenomenal," Wilhelm said. "It allowed us time to work out all of the kinks, learn the equipment, how to work it together as a team, so that the Team STEPPS concept played out very well. I know that when we open these doors today and move patients, we are ready."

In part, what makes this NICU unique is the noise reduction/sound proofing that has been installed in the ceiling and floor. Because most of the babies here would under ideal conditions still be in mother's womb, sound levels are kept to neonatal standards. With dimmer light capabilities and a device to monitor sound level, the rooms provide the optimal environment for babies' hearing, growth and overall development.

Another key element allowing for private rooms for baby and parents is the technology that allows nurses to monitor rooms from other locations on the ward.

"With the new monitor system, our nurses can be comfortable being in one room knowing that they have another baby in another room that they are responsible for," Wilhelm said. "We have built in the technology that allows the alarm system from the monitors to reach the devices our nurses carry that will tell them when there is an alarm and a baby needs them."

Directing his words to the NICU staff, TAMC Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher emphasized that "what we want to take away is that this was built with the patient in mind, with the patient at the center of everything we do. And, as we migrate to a Patient Centered Medical Home model throughout the entire Army and Department of Defense, this certainly sets the tone.

"Lastly, it is all about saving lives," Gallagher said. "You do that better than anyone else, I think, on the island, in the country and around the world. You save lives and you do it very well."