By Luke Delaney
Everything about the world is different because of COVID-19. Well, almost everything. As surely as the sun rises and sets, babies are born – and still too many of them prematurely.
Without a doubt, COVID-19 presents additional, new challenges in the NICU for premature babies and the clinicians who care for them.
It’s widely known that families are critical to the health and healing of premature babies. But, unfortunately, COVID-19-related restrictions limit families’ access to moms and babies, and therefore limit the opportunity to support in a way that helps improve outcomes.
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Of course, COVID-19-related visitation restrictions within hospitals are necessary to protect the health and safety of the fragile newborn. Although well-intentioned, these limitations can prevent a newborn from thriving and can be taxing on the parents who do get access to their NICU babies but are denied support from grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and others who often visit, bring meals, provide transportation or lend the all-important shoulder to cry on.
So, what has the pandemic taught us and how we can do things differently as a result?
We are listening to and learning from clinicians to continue providing the solutions they need to support these fragile patients and their families.
In a recent conversation with Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Ph.D., N.N.P., F.A.A.N., an associate professor & director of infant research at The George Washington University School of Nursing and the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute (ANDI) as well as a neonatal nurse practitioner with PEDIATRIX, Darcy-Mahoney pointed to her team’s paper published in the Journal of Perinatology
. In it, they highlight that the rapid implementation of COVID-19 related changes, such as visitation restrictions, could have substantial impact on parental and family well-being and could even lead to detrimental effects on neonatal health outcomes.
The paper concludes that while hospital restrictions have significantly limited parental presence for NICU-admitted infants, single-family room design may mitigate this effect.
We believe it’s time to work together even better to address changes in how architecture and use of space – beyond the beds and warmers that support newborns -- can positively impact our care of babies and their families in the NICU. By evolving the environment to innovatively find ways to keep patients safe in terms of ventilation, distance, airborne viruses, bacteria and other factors, we are better serving these fragile patients and their families.