Officials with the Connecticut chapter of the March of Dimes came to the Health Center last week to celebrate the arrival of a special collaboration with the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Now in its 31st year of providing care for babies born prematurely or with serious health concerns, UConn’s NICU was chosen as the first site in Connecticut for the March of Dimes NICU Family Supports project.
The project is a national initiative the March of Dimes launched in 2004 with the goal of placing and funding a “family support specialist” in at least one NICU in every state in the country.
The March of Dimes chose UConn after a thorough selection process and extensive meetings with nursery staff. Support for the Health Center program also comes from the New Alliance Foundation.
For the Health Center, the March of Dimes hired Jeanne Lattanzio as the family support specialist. Lattanzio, who previously worked at the Health Center, is already on board, helping families.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Lattanzio said at a press conference announcing the project.
More than 30 years ago, she began her career as a nurse in pediatrics and neonatology at the Health Center, and eventually became director of nursing.
She retired from hospital administration in 2004 but wanted to do more to help families.
As the grandmother of an eight-year-old boy who started life in an NICU, and with prior experience, this was a perfect fit.
“I can think of no better person to assist, comfort and guide families than Jeanne Lattanzio,” said Dr. Peter J. Deckers, the Health Center’s executive vice president for health affairs.
“She is completely devoted to helping others and, as a nurse who worked in this unit for many years, she has a thorough understanding of how the NICU functions.”
John McTighe, a March of Dimes ambassador who shared his family’s story of spending 138 days in the Health Center’s NICU, said, “One of the biggest problems families face when their babies are in intensive care is the emotional toll. That’s why this program is so important.”
His daughter Amanda, now five, joined him at the podium.
The NICU Family Support program was designed to meet the needs of families throughout the hospitalization, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn death. The program’s components include:
- connection with March of Dimes volunteers who provide parent-to-parent support to families within the NICU setting;
| Families are encouraged to participate in their babies’ care at the Health Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. These efforts will be bolstered by a new program sponsored by the March of Dimes and the New Alliance Foundation.
|Photo by Lanny Nagler
- educational materials included in a Parent Care Kit that introduces parents to the staff, equipment, procedures, and conditions they may encounter in the NICU;
- customized programs developed to serve the NICU population, such as information and support for siblings and the extended family, support for Spanish-speaking families, a photo keepsake program, support to ease the transition from the NICU to the home, and bereavement support.
“There’s no question that the experience of having a baby in the NICU can be overwhelming,” said Dr. Steven Strongwater, hospital director at the UConn Health Center.
“That’s why we take many steps to help minimize the stress of this experience for parents and babies alike. The NICU Family Support designation is one more program we are pleased to offer families.”
Strongwater noted that the Health Center is also a nationally recognized leader in an infant and family-centered approach to care that places special emphasis on the role of parents in supporting their baby’s development.
As a training center for the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program, UConn is reaching out to help other nurseries across the country adopt this family-centered approach to care.
“We feel very strongly about helping parents take very active roles in their baby’s care,” said Strongwater.
“This is one more way parents here at the Health Center will be supported as they embark on one of the most important relationships in their lives.”
The March of Dimes has long been known for its work to support research into the causes of premature births, which account for about 12 percent of all births every year. In nearly half of all cases, the cause is unknown.
“The NICU Family Support project is critical to our overall goal of improving the health of babies and providing information and comfort to families when their babies need care in a NICU,” said Julie Fronckowiak, state director of the March of Dimes, Connecticut chapter.
“We are very pleased to be working with the UConn Health Center.”