THE physical design of and routine practices in neonatal units (especially nurseries for high-risk infants) are presently influenced almost entirely by considerations related to the risk of spreading infection in the nursery by fomites and personnel. The role of nursery design and specific routines in preventing epidemics is considered so important that the details are encoded in many local, state, and federal health laws or regulations. These are enforced by periodic inspections and conformity is made a prerequisite for official approval, allocation of funds, etc. Although there is little reason to doubt that these policies have had the effect of reducing the incidence of nursery epidemics, there is growing concern that official rigidity in these matters may interfere with optimal care of the very ill infant, as well as with research designed to improve care and find solutions to the overall problems of neonatal mortality and morbidity.
Infections are an important and frequent cause of disease in the newborn. They are, however, clearly outdistanced by major non-infectious disorders that account for the majority of deaths and brain damage in the neonatal period (respiratory distress, asphyxia, acidosis, hypoglycemia, and hyperbilirubinemia). Some of the precautionary techniques used to reduce the risk of infections have the practical disadvantages of making it difficult (1) to approach the neonatal patient and (2) to apply modern diagnostic maneuvers and therapeutic aids in order to improve the neonatal patient's chances for intact survival. As a result the nursery-based infants in this country are, in general, quite well protected from the risks of nosocomial infections; but, they receive less than ideal management for cardiorespiratory disorders, a major cause of neonatal mortality.
It is obvious that new solutions are required to solve the problem of hospital care of the sick neonate. Unfortunately, both the search for new approaches to neonatal care and the application of some newly established knowledge are now being impaired by rigid rules and construction codes which do not permit innovation. Although these rules cannot be completely abandoned until safe alternatives have been demonstrated, the Committee believes that public health administrators and hospital committees must permit cautious, responsible exploration and evaluation of new approaches to the multiple problems involved.
- Copyright © 1967 by the American Academy of Pediatrics