‘We’re used to being involved in crises. But nothing prepared us for this’
“I used to pull up a chair and join mothers at the bedside as they introduced their new baby to me. I supported fathers as they tried to understand why their baby was born so early. I was a sounding board for frustrated parents whose babies faced prolonged neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stays.”
Neonatal social worker Anne Pendergast’s role at Advocate Children’s Hospital was emotionally challenging long before a pandemic turned the world upside down.
“Social workers are often involved in crisis situations. It’s the nature of our work,” Pendergast says. “But none of us were prepared for the uncertainty and isolation brought on by COVID-19.”
Now, donning a face mask and eye shield, she reflects on the impact COVID has on her socially distanced interactions with families.
“NICU families need support more than ever before,” she says. “That’s why I reached out to my peers in Supportive Services to craft a plan to comfort families. We all knew we needed to reassure our NICU parents and openly express that we understand the many challenges they’re facing. Restricted visitation, illness and the responsibility of having a baby in the NICU has taken on a whole new meaning,” she says.
Together, the team established a multidisciplinary Supportive Services Team to address the complex psychosocial needs of families. They developed welcome letters for NICU families to provide resources and contact information.
“We want to decrease families’ anxiety and help manage stress. They’re feeling isolated, anxious and depressed,” Pendergast says.
These feelings only worsened when parents received upsetting news about their child alone — without their partner or a family member with them, yet another unfortunate consequence of COVID.
That’s where a team member from Supportive Services steps in. They’re often seen at a patient’s bedside spending time with a parent when COVID restrictions only permit one parent at a time.
“We’re getting positive feedback from parents, but our work isn’t done,” Pendergast says. “We’re still meeting weekly and collaborating on care plans to best meet the needs of our families. We now appreciate the fact that a strong Supportive Services Team is one of our most valuable NICU assets.”
Through all of this, Pendergast is reminded of a saying she says couldn’t be more true: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.