Parent partners pioneer a path to better patient care

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“What we’re building in the IWK Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in the health care system whether it’s with my kids or my parents,” says Leah Whitehead, parent partner coordinator. “This is really pioneering a path that will not only affect NICUs Maritime-wide, but also other areas of care. When we really look at involving families, everybody benefits. It’s a win-win.”

On September 28 and 29 the IWK will welcome approximately 40 nurses, neonatologists, social workers and parent partners from neonatal intensive care units from hospitals across Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

The two day Partners in Care workshop focuses on what it takes to build a strong parent partner program. The kind that ensures parents and families have peer support and are active members of their health care team.

Participants will tour the IWK’s new single-family room unit known as NICU North, which opened to patients in April 2018. Most importantly, it will bring families and health care staff from many communities together for advanced training and learning.

“We’re truly thrilled to be welcoming colleagues and parents from hospitals across the Maritimes. It’s such a unique opportunity for this kind of east coast perspective that can only serve to make us all better,” says Darlene Inglis, manager of IWK’s neonatal care team.

For many attendees, this is a chance to see single-room care in practice and have open conversations about how the philosophy of family-integrated care ties together to inform future practices and build standards of care that improve outcome for both babies and their families.

New Brunswick’s Horizon Health Network in Moncton will be sending a parent program member and their neonatal clinical care charge nurse to the workshop.

“We’re in the process of a new build encompassing labour and birth, maternity, and a neonatal unit so the timing is perfect for us,” says Brenda Houser, nurse manager of the neonatal intensive care unit in Moncton, New Brunswick. “It will be a great time of networking and sharing of ideas. Everything that’s talked about we will be able to bring back to our unit. We all really want to see how we can incorporate these ideas into our local program.”

For moms who have had first-hand experience with a critically ill newborn, the big draw is the chance to open up about what’s worked and what would make things better. Parents will have the chance to speak to other parents and have that voice added to the health care providers.

“Sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re part of something bigger. That feels good,” says Houser.

Funding for parent volunteers for the workshop, including travel costs, is thanks to the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation, who approached the IWK with the idea.

“I hope people walk away feeling the possibility of what could be and the excitement and the openness. I want people to be able to dream, which I feel the IWK’s NICU has done for me as a parent,” says Whitehead.

Parent Partner Program at the IWK

  • 1 parent partner coordinator on staff
  • 22 trained parent partner volunteers
  • Volunteers receive orientation/training and can offer peer support in a variety of ways – from bedside visits to organizing social events like the NICU Dad group where they get together, eat pizza and socialize.
  • In July, volunteers gave 28 hours.