Kentucky Children’s Hospital Opens New Welcome Center and NICU

State-of-the-Art Facility is a “Dream Come True” for Neonatal Care

Celebrating the successful completion of a multiyear planning and design process, the Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) unveiled its new Makenna Foundation Welcome Center and Betti Ruth Robinson Taylor Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lexington.

Designed by HGA of Minneapolis as Design Architect and GBBN of Lexington as Architect of Record, the Welcome Center and NICU mark a milestone in providing the most advanced care for at-risk newborns in Kentucky.

“This new facility is a dream come true for our team,” said Dr. Scottie B. Day, MD, FAAP, Physician-in-Chief of Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “We partnered with doctors, nurses and staff, as well as our patient-parent advisory group to create a space where we can deliver advanced care to our most vulnerable patients.”

A Welcoming Setting

Kentucky Children’s Hospital is a hospital within a hospital, connected to the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital, part of the UK HealthCare system.

Originally designed in 1988, KCH lacked a central lobby and was accessible only through a single visitor elevator within the main hospital.

To bring greater visibility to KCH and the NICU, the design team filled in an existing open-air courtyard between the main hospital and children’s hospital to create the 8,800 square-foot Welcome Center. Now, two prominent interior entrances framed in warm wood and bright-blue paneling welcome patients from the ground or first floors of the main hospital.

The light-filled interior features an oblong skylight stretching across the arched ceiling, clusters of colorful seating, interactive digital video wall, and most prominently a large-scale “Exuberance” art installation comprised of marble-filled kites suspended from the ceiling.

Overall, the Welcome Center includes patient and visitor registration; children’s-focused gift shop; Simpson Family Theater to host events and programs; Pediatric Health Education Center with educational resources; and business center for parents and families.

“The Welcome Center projects a comforting tone and sense of confidence that patients and families will receive outstanding care at Kentucky Children’s Hospital,” said Rebecca Kleinbaum Sanders, AIA, NCARB, Healthcare Principal at HGA. “Because of its locations within an academic medical center, the design clearly brings KCH forward, creating a distinct branded identity and image of quality, compassionate care.”

Planning The NICU

Beyond the Welcome Center, the 45,000 square-foot NICU consists of renovation and in-fill construction of the Children’s Hospital, replacing the existing 8,300 square-foot NICU with expanded patient and family spaces and caregiver resources on the first floor, and a new Pediatric Outpatient and Sedation Center on the ground floor.

“Neonatal Intensive Care Units contain some of the most fragile and vulnerable patient populations requiring constant vigilance from nurses and staff,” said HGA’s Sanders. “Additionally, parents and family members often experience high stress. As we approached the planning process, we asked ourselves, how can design help reduce family stress and enable caregivers to deliver the best care possible?”

To answer that challenge, HGA and GBBN partnered with doctors, nurses, staff, and the patient-parent advisory group to gather input, define needs, and create a space to deliver the best care possible. Feedback included more family space, single rooms for increased patient-family privacy and care (from the existing six babies per room), good sightlines between charting stations and patients’ rooms, and more collaborative spaces between caregivers and medical students and residents to support KCH’s academic medical center mission.

Advanced Care

The 70-bed NICU includes 66 single-bed patient rooms with daybeds for parents; two double-bed patient rooms with daybeds; circadian rhythm lighting; infant nutrition room; lounge, kitchen, laundry, and shower facilities for parents; two care-by-parent rooms; and staff spaces with workroom, lounge area, quiet room, and terrace.

The NICU is organized into six neighborhoods of approximately 12 beds each, allowing nurses to dedicate themselves to a smaller group of patients for integrated team care. A variety of caregiver spaces encourage huddles, support, and learning. Additionally, 12-foot-wide corridors enhance movement and workflows through the NICU, visually and physically increasing connections between staff, patients, and families.

The six neighborhoods feature colorful, nature-themed mosaic-tile murals inspired by regional wildlife—Bumblebees, Grey Squirrels, Redlips Darter Fish, Yellow Kentucky Warblers, Elk, and Hummingbirds—that enhance wayfinding and identify neighborhoods.

Other inspiring aesthetics includes etched-glass interior windows, locally commissioned paintings, and colorful circular pocket seating inset within walls in lounge areas. Throughout, skylights and large-scale windows infuse the interior with light, creating a soothing and warm environment.

Meeting Needs Today and Tomorrow

The NICU has undergone several expansions since first established in 1972, filling an increasingly urgent need. Nearly 40 percent of birthing mothers at UK HealthCare are considered high risk, with 20 percent of infants diagnosed as low birth weight. Approximately 50 percent of the NICU admissions come from UK’s delivery service, while the remaining come from other delivery services throughout the region.

“At-risk newborns and premature babies require specialized treatment,” Day of KCH said. “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to intensive care. As central and eastern Kentucky’s only Level IV NICU, we have an obligation to treat not only our patients, but their families with the utmost care during a stressful and trying time.”

The Makenna Foundation Welcome Center and Betti Ruth Robinson Taylor Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Kentucky Children’s Hospital have clearly accomplished their goals to meet patient needs today and into the future.

For more information, visit Kentucky Children’s Hospital.


Because of its locations within an academic medical center, the design clearly brings KCH forward, creating a distinct branded identity and image of quality, compassionate care

Rebecca Kleinbaum Sanders

Healthcare Principal, HGA