Dignity Health-Mercy San Juan Medical Center

Creating a Warm, Welcoming Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

The expanded Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for Dignity Health-Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento County, California, increases capacity to 40 beds, replacing a NICU within the Health and Family Birth Center in the original hospital tower. Located on the 3rd-floor shell space in an adjacent tower, the NICU meets the hospital’s growing healthcare needs, which delivered 2,043 live births in 2019, including 166 critically underweight births.

The 17,889 SF NICU includes 24 beds grouped in eight three-bed pods, 16 private critical care beds, overnight family space with pull-out sofa in patient rooms, decentralized nurses’ stations, family waiting room, and bridge connection to Birth Center in original tower. Additionally, four critical care rooms flexibly convert to isolation rooms, two of which allow equipment to be removed and concealed creating a calming environment for parents to be alone with their terminal child.

The planning processes included multiple user group meetings with executive leadership, doctors, nurses, and other specialists beginning in 2016, before submitting to California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) approval in 2018. The interactive meetings gathered critical workflow feedback to inform programming, space programming, schematic plan with racetrack floor plan, information technology, patient and staff security, and pre-approved product specs.

The inviting interior features a simple, nature-inspired palette of warm whites, crisp greens, soft blues, and abstracted botanical forms, such as flowers, leaves, stems, and vines—reminiscent of paper crafts and children’s art. Raised and lowered ceiling planes frame focal areas and delineate nurse-station locations. Strategically placed indirect cove lighting creates warmth and aid in wayfinding. Wood and fabric textures further evoke comfort and warmth. The light-filled waiting room features seating for adults and child siblings. A large-scale graphic collage of children’s faces—the NICU graduates—projects a sense of hope for current patients and their families.


Sacramento County, CA

Building Type

NICU, Children's Hospital


17,889 SF

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