March of Dimes and Doernbecher Launch new Neonatal Family Support Project

08/02/04    Portland, Ore.

This unique program is the first of its kind on the West Coast

The March of Dimes and Doernbecher Children's Hospital have just launched the March of Dimes NICU Family Support project, a new and innovative program that provides unique support to families with premature or seriously ill babies in the Doernbecher Neonatal Care Center (DNCC). The project is the only program of its kind on the West Coast and one of only 13 in the country.

Hospitalization of a baby in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be one of the most frightening, confusing and overwhelming experiences for a parent. Yet, this is the reality for thousands of families each year in Oregon. More than 22 percent of the 1,200 babies in the DNCC each year come from rural areas of Oregon, often leaving their parents in Portland with little support from family or friends. The NICU Family Support project was created by the March of Dimes to improve the health of babies by providing information and comfort to families while their newborn is hospitalized, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn's death.

The March of Dimes NICU Family Support project has several components that make it unique. Ronit Fahl, M.S.W., the new NICU Family Support Specialist, coordinates the project as a March of Dimes employee. Fahl's primary mission is to provide informational and emotional support to families as they become new parents of babies who need extra attention during their first days of life. DNCC families receive a Parent Care Kit, which includes a keepsake journal, information on common NICU equipment and procedures, and information on parenting in the NICU setting. In addition, a volunteer Parent-Professional Advisory Committee will guide the program's development and implementation, and a team of volunteers, who are parents of former DNCC babies, will offer one-on-one support to new families in the NICU.

Fahl is currently assessing the needs of the DNCC to determine if families might need any additional services.

The NICU Family Support project's annual budget is $70,000. The first year of funding was provided by Pediatrix Medical Group, Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Tournament Golf Foundation Inc. and individual donations.

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The Doernbecher Neonatal Care Center's specially trained staff cares for more than 1,200 premature and seriously ill newborns each year. This is the oldest neonatal care program in the Northwest and is part of Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon's only health and research university.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies.