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A happy reunion

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Each year, nearly 15 percent of children born in the United States spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of their local hospital. According to KidsHealth.org, babies who receive care there are often admitted within the first 24 hours after birth — primarily because they are born prematurely, there are difficulties during delivery, or there are signs of health issues in the babies’ first few days of life.

Only very young babies are treated in the NICU, and their care ends once the medical professionals complete their work. As a result, the medical professionals that treat these young patients rarely see how the babies progress and develop.

To remedy this issue, a reunion was hosted by Montefiore’s Wakefield Hospital this past fall for a group of Bronx families that had its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to thank for sustaining their family. The families were reunited with the doctors and nurses who cared for their babies’ during their most critical stages.

The hospital has been named in U.S. News’ “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.” Montefiore is an integrated health system, which includes the largest school health program in the nation. A top hospital in both the region and the nation as a whole, Montefiore is recognized for its patient- and family-centered care and how the institution educates the healthcare professionals of tomorrow. In particular, it has an ongoing partnership with Albert Einstein Medical College to advance clinical research.

The hospital truly stands out when it comes to patient care, so it does not seem odd that an institution like this would make efforts to reunite with its former young patients. The hospital has many in-house programs to aid families. For instance, the Suzanne Pincus Family Learning Place is a pediatric health information and resource center available to the families of patients. The materials in the resource center are available for families, so they can educate themselves and feel empowered when speaking with the health care professionals.

The institution also offers an “Explainer Program” that is designed to engage patients and their families on the technologies available to them in the hospital. Lastly, the Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program aides families in addressing the social and emotional needs of the child while receiving treatment.

This event is just another nod to the compassion of those on staff. The children and their families attended a special party to show gratitude for successful health outcomes since their treatment. The families were there to celebrate the health of the children who were cared for at the Wakefield Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and to come together with the healthcare professionals. Everyone enjoyed activities, food, and each other. I recently spoke to Sheri Nemerofsky, M.D., a neonatologist the Montefiore Medical Center, about the event.

Shnieka Johnson: What is the history of the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore?

Sheri Nemerofsky, M.D.: The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore opened in 2001 and is a world-class children’s hospital that has reached many exceptional milestones, such as performing the first pediatric heart transplant in the Bronx, and the world’s first successful separation of twins joined at the head. The Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals” by U.S. News and World Report. In 2014-15, it was ranked in four sub-specialties — Cardiology and Heart Surgery, Gastroenterology and GI Surgery, Nephrology, and Neurology and Neurosurgery.

SJ: What are the levels of severity treated at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore?

SN: Clinicians at CHAM care for children with a broad range of medical conditions and severities, always keeping their special needs in mind. The team works collaboratively to provide each family with the best course of treatment for individual patients. Our special programs and services are designed to address the medical, educational, and emotional needs of every child and family. Clinicians provide the entire spectrum of pediatric services to meet the needs of the community, in particular to address prevalent health issues, including obesity, asthma, and diabetes.

SJ: What resources are offered to parents following their child’s treatment in the NICU?

SN: Patients are offered a visiting nurse who is a valuable resource to families after discharge. Babies are also referred to our high-risk Low Birth Weight Infant Evaluation and Assessment Program, where they continue to be seen by a multidisciplinary team. They are also given resources to continue breastfeeding.

SJ: Where did the idea for a reunion come from?

SN: The purpose of the reunion is to provide families with the opportunity to come back and see the staff that cared for their children at a critical time in their lives. It also allows the staff to see how the children have developed and progressed since their time in the NICU. Each patient becomes “family” to the medical team when they are here, and they all enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to reconnect.

SJ: What was the atmosphere of the event?

SN: The atmosphere was very joyous, with lots of laughter and appreciation.

SJ: How many families participated?

SN: Forty families were at the reunion this year. In total about 150 people, including staff.

SJ: Have you seen growth in attendance over the years?

SN: Yes, every year more families join in the celebrations.

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website: www.shniekajohnson.com.

Updated 4:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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