Every year in New Mexico, hundreds of babies are born prematurely or with significant medical complications. Consequently, nearly 900 of these babies are cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital.
For the past 20 years, the UNMH Developmental Care Program, a unit of the NICU, has helped these babies and their families get the special attention they need—regardless of whether they were born at UNMH or somewhere else.
“This type of program is important for our state,” says Nancie Furgang, Program Director for the Development Care Program. “We help babies born at risk regardless of their financial situation or where they live – that’s what sets us apart.”
The program consists of occupational, physical, and family therapists, speech language pathologists, and psychologists who provide developmentally supportive care for infants and their families.
“We are housed in the Neonatology Department right down the hall from the NICU—something few hospitals have. This speaks to the commitment that the Department of Neonatology has to our program,” says Gerri Duran, an occupational therapist with the program.
Generally within 24-48 hours after a baby is admitted to the NICU, a specialist from the program is assigned to take care of the baby and their family. “Some of the parents of these babies are shell-shocked after they deliver their baby,” Duran said. “Many of them weren’t expecting to deliver so early and when they see their baby with tubes and respirators they don’t know what to do.”
The Developmental Care Program personnel are able to assist these people and help put their minds at ease. “The therapists, along with nurses, teach family members special and safe ways to touch, hold, comfort and interact with their baby despite the tubes and wires,” she said.
And the care isn’t just limited to the time the baby is in the NICU--these families are provided with plenty of follow-up care. “We touch base with every baby that has come through our NICU either through phone calls, visits or questionnaires from the time they are born and many of them until they are three years old,” Duran said.
When indicated and with parental collaboration, the babies at risk for developmental delays are evaluated during those three years to make sure they are meeting their developmental milestones. “We help parents know where their child fits in with relation to other children their age,” Duran said. “Through this process and depending on the severity of the issue, we are able to either assist these parents or refer them to other agencies that can assist them further.”
Duran and the Developmental Care staff also rely heavily on experienced parents to help aid new parents. “We have a group of parents from Parents Reaching Out who work with us and act as liaisons for the Program. These parents have had children in the NICU, so they know what the new parents are going through, she said.
The mission of the program is clear—to promote and support the best possible developmental and emotional care for babies and their families. The main focus of the UNMH Developmental Care Program is to support infants by using a family-centered approach. And thanks to the program’s staff and parents, New Mexicans have a strong ally when it comes to the care of their babies.