The HCD 10 Clinician

Dr. Robert White

Director, regional newborn program, Beacon Children’s Hospital (South Bend, Ind.)

Mission statement: “My passion is to find the environment of care for ill newborns that best supports their neurological and physical development in the most crucial first weeks and months of life, and to similarly design the best environment for their families and caregivers so that all will thrive under our care.”

Who he is: Since completing his medical training in 1981, White has led the regional newborn program at Beacon Children’s Hospital, part of Memorial Hospital. Now an internationally regarded neonatologist, White says his greatest interest lies in the impact the physical environment has on critically ill newborns, their families, and caregivers. He serves as the chairman for the Consensus Committee on Recommended Standards for Newborn ICU Design and co-chair for the Gravens Conference on the Environment of Care for High-Risk Newborns, in addition to participating in several other industry organizations and authoring numerous academic journal articles on the topic.

Year in review: In 2017, White’s expertise informed the design of a vertical expansion to Beacon Children’s Hospital that includes a unique NICU that’s anchored on the premise of keeping even the sickest of newborns with their families after birth. The unit houses 21 single-family rooms that support neonatal care while also offering a suite-inspired
environment for parents, complete with sleeping accommodations for two and a full bathroom. The unit also contains nine “NICU2” rooms that are designed for multiple purposes—most notably for couplet care. This approach allows a mother to receive postpartum care in the same room where her neonate is receiving care, rather than in a separate unit elsewhere in the hospital. Additionally, White advocated for generous access to natural light on the unit, including via an atrium that brings daylight into the heart of the NICU. He was also a champion for the inclusion of staff amenities that provide a break from this high-stress environment, such as a napping room, Zen room for reflection, and an outdoor terrace.

Industry impact: As the first facility in the U.S. designed to allow mothers who have just delivered to remain with their critically ill newborn, the expansion at Beacon Children’s presents a critical step forward for NICU design. The overall effort facilitates bonding between mother and baby, increases participation in kangaroo care, and improves developmental outcomes. White’s model is now being adopted by other NICUs around the country and even received coverage in the Wall Street Journal, taking these concepts into the mainstream.

What’s next: White is making sure the word spreads, too, currently working to study and then disseminate the results of Beacon Children’s experience with couplet care so that other organizations can replicate and improve upon its experience.