A ribbon-cutting Thursday at John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch marked the completion of renovation of one wing of the hospital.

Construction crews renovated about 220,000 square feet across five floors that will house services for women, infants and children, officials said.

The renovated spaces include a new Pediatrics and Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit with 16 beds, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with 22 beds, a Mother-Baby Unit with 16 beds, a Labor and Delivery Unit with 16 beds and a new triage/C-Section/Recovery floor.

“One of the concepts we introduced in the design was a single room for each baby in ICU,” said Dr. Joan Richardson, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Neonatology.

“One thing we have learned is that even though these are small babies, they seem to do much, much better if they are in a single room,” Richardson said. “They rest better, they grow better, they get fewer infections.”

“For many years, we have had an open bay concept,” said Yesenia Sandino, nurse manager of levels 3 and 4 of the neonatal intensive care unit.

To go from that crowded situation of many babies lined up in one space to a single, private room for each baby is a big difference that is welcome, she said.

“And the parents get space there, too,” she said.

Parents can take showers or rest on a couch. They can look out new big windows that let in light. They can appreciate the art hanging on the walls.

“We’ve been waiting for this a long time,” said Paula Garza, assistant nurse manager of labor and delivery and high-risk obstetrics. “We’ve never had couches in the rooms before. It’s more accommodating now.”

The renovation began in 2015 with a gift of $75 million from The Sealy & Smith Foundation. The foundation also funded the hospital’s construction in 1978.

Dr. Ben Raimer, interim president of the medical branch, thanked the foundation for the funding.

“John Sealy Hospital’s ongoing transformation is due in large measure to the vision and generosity of the foundation,” Raimer said. “Our partnership has allowed us to always be there for the needs of our community and to provide the kind of care we all want to have when we need it.

“These new floors of John Sealy Hospital will allow our doctors and nurses to provide their world-class care for women, infants and children in a comforting, world-class setting,” he said.

John Sealy himself was an early philanthropist in 1922 for the medical branch, Raimer said.

The exterior of the building is being renovated to match that of Jennie Sealy Hospital, which opened in 2016. That includes windows that allow more natural light into the building and provide more sweeping views.

The new floors have more spacious, family- centered patient rooms and new equipment and furnishings throughout. A new connection provides direct access to R. Waverley Smith Pavilion with acoustic ceiling tiles engineered to reduce ambient noise and a collection of art that includes the work of local artists.

The modernization of John Sealy Hospital, expected to total about $217 million, will continue in a third phase that will renovate another section of the hospital. The Sealy & Smith Foundation is providing an additional $25 million in support for that phase, officials said.

Over its history, the foundation has contributed more than $950 million to the medical branch for facilities, equipment and faculty support, officials said.

“This renovated space will help thousands of mothers, babies, children and their families,” said John Kelso, president of The Sealy & Smith Foundation board. “The care new families will receive here will help provide them the best possible start in life, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

“You might have heard that diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” Richardson said. “That’s not true. A girl’s best friend is the Sealy & Smith Foundation.”

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Bailey Jones

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