The St. Charles Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has been awarded the March of Dimes’ Leading Practice Award for the support services it provides to families whose prematurely born babies require air medical transport.
A March of Dimes Level II Family Support Site, St. Charles is only one of two hospitals on the West Coast with this designation. It means the hospital is dedicated to providing NICU babies with the highest level of care — and helping their families feel as supported as possible.
In 2009, after AirLink Critical Care Transport’s perinatal flight team transitioned to St. Charles, the NICU began exploring ways to help better support families whose high-risk infants were being flown either to or from St. Charles.
“The NICU environment is stressful enough for a family and then to have that separation all of a sudden makes it exponentially worse,” said Sara Mosher, RN and St. Charles NICU family support specialist. “How do we emotionally support these families when we take their babies away?”
The NICU, she said, began looking to others around the country for inspiration.
One of the ideas it embraced was documenting a baby’s transport photographically. From preparation to arrival, a neonate’s journey is captured by hospital staff then burned on a CD for the parents.
Often mothers who have recently delivered are not stable enough to accompany their babies during the flight, Mosher said, “and if they don’t get on the plane, they don’t know what it looks like — they don’t know where their baby was.”
"This kind of support extends to rural hospitals, where staff has been trained by St. Charles to provide families with informational March of Dimes packets and photograph the babies. “It’s really a way to bring outlying facilities on board,” Mosher said.
Once at St. Charles, she said, parents receive a welcome kit, which includes a book, photo album for their baby’s pictures and a NICU video that prepares them for what to expect during their baby’s stay.
Mosher said AirLink, which is the only air ambulance service in Central Oregon that transports neonates, has been instrumental in making the program a success. “The entire flight crew has been very supportive of the neonatal nurses who are taking these additional steps to comfort and support families during separation,” she said.
One of only five Family Support Sites nationwide to be recognized with the award, St. Charles’ entry will be posted on the March of Dimes’ intranet for others to read and will be published in a Leading Practice resource booklet available to all chapters.