"Helping Hand" to Parents of Critically Ill Babies Through "Project NICU" Program

Jun 28, 2011, 02:00 ET from Baylor Health Care System

FORT WORTH, Texas, June 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The road home for newborns who must spend the first days, weeks or even months of their lives in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is always difficult. But it's often even more so for their parents and siblings.  To make this family journey easier, Baylor All Saints Medical Center's Andrews Women's Hospital has teamed up with the NICU Helping Hands Foundation (NHHF) to host Project NICU, a first-of-its-kind program in Tarrant County.

"The infant mortality rate in Tarrant County has risen to rates higher than the Texas average," explains Janice Whitmire, MBA, administrator of Baylor Fort Worth's Andrews Women's Hospital.  "We have long had a Level III NICU that provides advanced medical care for critically ill babies. Now, through Project NICU, we can offer the robust support programs and comprehensive resources that families of these special babies need to cope with what is often a full-blown family crisis – resources that may not be available anywhere else." Baylor All Saints, part of Baylor Health Care System, initiated the program June 15, 2011.

NHHF was founded in July 2010 by Once Upon a Time, a local foundation that supports educational and health-related initiatives.

"A lot of times the support services for parents and siblings are provided by staff who are already maxed out with their main job responsibilities," says NHHF Board President Lisa Grubbs.  "Project NICU offers a full-time program facilitator that's in the unit 40 hours a week, providing 40 hours of family contact and support." Over the past year, her organization has researched NICU family support programs and interviewed NICU leaders at hospitals throughout the country. Project NICU was developed based on what they learned.  

The onsite program facilitator is charged with coordinating the many resources and evidence-based educational opportunities offered through Project NICU. These include:

  • materials to support parents as they manage the day-to-day realities of the NICU;
  • weekly support groups for parents of preterm infants;
  • monthly education groups for parents and siblings, featuring neonatologists and other NICU staff members;
  • special programs that tend to families experiencing antepartum care, transport of an infant from birth hospital to the Baylor Fort Worth NICU, and bereavement services;
  • family activities such as photography and scrapbooking for their baby; and
  • NICU staff development opportunities.

"One of the things research shows is that peer-to-peer support–having someone who can say 'I've been there before, and there is light at the end of the tunnel'–is the best way to help parents dealing with the birth of a premature infant," says Grubbs.  

Project NICU's weekly parent support meetings involve parents of both current and former NICU patients. In addition, the program facilitator can match current NICU parents with former NICU parents who can be one-on-one mentors they can lean on for information, encouragement and strength.  

A Highly Sought Program
Before settling on launching Project NICU at Baylor Fort Worth, NHHF reviewed extensive applications from other area hospitals.

"It was a very competitive process," says Whitmire. "After we applied, they came out and met with administration and nursing staff to ask us questions and allow us to ask them questions. When we heard they picked us, we were very honored and very excited."

Grubbs says she came away very impressed after meeting Whitmire and her team. "We felt like Baylor Fort Worth was the best choice for the program. We really liked meeting with the administrative team, which is so focused on doing whatever is best for babies and families," she says.

Since Baylor Fort Worth's Andrews Women's Hospital opened in 2008, it has been committed to providing a full continuum of care to women and their babies, including a 63-bed NICU. Whitmire believes Project NICU is an extension of that continuum and calls the program a "true gift."

"Our staff couldn't wait to learn more about it, and I know parents were asking about it before it even officially launched," she says. "However, the physicians on our medical staff were probably the most excited because they can tell their patients that not only will they be taken care of by great nurses, but there is this great new resource available if they need it."

About Baylor Health Care System
Baylor Health Care System is a faith-based supporting organization providing services to a network of acute care hospitals and related health care entities that provide patient care, medical education, research and community service. Baylor recorded more than 2.6 million patient encounters, $3.8 billion in total operating revenue, $4.4 billion in total assets and $513.5 million in community benefit in fiscal year 2010. Baylor's network of more than 260 access points includes 26 owned/operated/ ventured/affiliated hospitals, 23 joint ventured ambulatory surgical centers, 50 satellite outpatient locations, four senior centers and 156 HealthTexas physician clinics.

About NICU Helping Hands Foundation
The NICU Helping Hands Foundation develops hospital and community-based projects that provide education and support to families of premature infants.

Our mission is to provide comprehensive support programs and resources to parents of premature infants in our community, not only during their stay in the neonatal intensive care unit of a local hospital, but during and after their transition home.

SOURCE Baylor Health Care System