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What Is The Homeward Bound Initiative?

What Is The Homeward Bound Initiative?

Improving education and assistance for families in the NICU

After a stay in the NICU, the day of discharge is both a day of celebration and a moment of anxiety for many parents, who will now be fully in charge of continuing their baby’s care. The Homeward Bound Initiative is designed to ensure that, when that day comes, parents and families are armed with the information and resources they need to be confident in their caregiving.

Through this initiative, parents with infants in the NICU benefit from the coordinated care of an entire team of Sarasota Memorial neonatologists, nurse practitioners, NICU pharmacists, NICU respiratory therapists, social workers, physical therapists, speech therapists, discharge nurses and more, who not only care for the baby, but train and prepare the parents.

“It’s pulling together all of our resources to help care for the whole family,” says Katie Clementi, NICU assistant clinical manager. “Because that’s how the NICU works best.”

In practice, the Homeward Bound Initiative can be broken down into a three-pronged approach addressing three key elements: Family Engagement & Preparedness, Health-Related Social Needs, and Transfer & Coordination of Care.

Family Engagement & Preparedness

The key to preparing parents to care for their baby after discharge from the NICU is to begin the moment they walk through the door.

Even though their baby will be under constant and close supervision during their stay at Sarasota Memorial, NICU staff and associated experts will begin working with parents from Day 1 to prepare them for the day their baby goes home. This means not only learning all the important basics—breastfeeding, safe sleep, diaper hygiene, etc.—but also receiving personalized education and training in the complexities of their baby’s care, so parents are informed and able to continue that care at home. This can range from recognizing important symptoms and warning signs to learning how to use and maintain necessary medical devices and equipment.

“The Homeward Bound Initiative is really about encouraging families to be more involved at an earlier stage,” says Dr. Jacqueline Nguyen, a neonatologist specializing in premature birth. “And by having the parents more present in the NICU and more involved in the care, it gives them more confidence to take care of their child once they leave.”

Health-Related Social Needs

Caring for a baby in the NICU means caring about the family outside the NICU too. This is an incredibly stressful time for parents, and the family may require support above and beyond medical assistance.

“Many of these parents are overwhelmed and anxious,” says Lisa Biach, clinical case manager in the Sarasota Memorial NICU. “But we know that the better prepared they are while they’re here, the safer the discharge.”

The Homeward Bound Initiative puts resources in place to help families deal with issues like transportation and hotel rooms, along with dedicated social workers to assist in the process, so that parents can focus on helping their baby.

Transfer & Coordination of Care

When the day of discharge comes, the parents have been fully trained and prepared to take charge of their baby’s care, but there is still much to be done. And between follow-up appointments and physician referrals, regular check-ups and therapy sessions, keeping track of all the different doctors and obligations can be overwhelming for parents trying to focus on their baby’s immediate needs.

The Homeward Bound Initiative ensures that all of this follow-up care is planned out before the parents leave the NICU. “We even make the appointments for them,” says NICU Clinical Manager Heather Graber.

Standardized discharge summaries that document the details of the baby’s NICU stay are sent to the family’s pediatrician on day of discharge. Referrals are made to specialists and developmental services prior to discharge. And someone from the NICU always calls to follow up with the family within 72 hours of discharge.

“So those babies have every possible chance,” Graber says. “And there’s no lack of follow-up.”

Right now, the Homeward Bound Initiative continues to grow and develop, with plans to further enhance and expand each element, creating visual aids for families to track their progress, developing partnerships with nonprofits like First 1,000 Days Suncoast, and continuing to build relationships with local pediatricians.

For more information on NICU and neonatal services at Sarasota Memorial, click here.SMH Copywriter, Phil Lederer

Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY, and should probably call his mother more.

Posted: May 14, 2024,
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