A few weeks ago, Dr. Lehtonen and her colleague Sari Ahlqvist-Bjorkroth invited me to participate and help with an information session for the Close Collaboration with Parents training program. This was held for several interested physicians and nurses from countries like Israel, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. I’ve already discussed a little bit about the program in one previous post, but I now have a better understanding of all that the program entails. The information seminar lasted two days, with the first spent discussing why the program is important and some of the research findings related to its success, and the second day showing how it is executed in the unit in Turku. Of course, most of my time here has been spent seeing how the program has been executed in the unit, even if I didn’t realize it, but it was still wonderful to get a glimpse of how the magic that the staff in the NICU create begins.
It was fascinating to hear the questions that many of the participants raised during the information session. Before seeing the unit and understanding the ways they do things here, I probably would’ve asked similar questions. How do you minimize infections if you allow siblings to visit? Do families actually give you a good description of how their infant is doing? So babies sit in rooms alone if nurses or family members aren’t there? It does sound impossible to implement this type of care when you come from units that barely have any parental presence, never allow siblings, and have 10+ babies in one room with several nurses caring for them all. But slowly, as the participants watched videos and saw the unit, they began to see that it really is possible. By understanding that it is a step by step process that doesn’t happen overnight, but requires slow, intentional steps toward family-friendliness, replicating the care culture that the unit in Turku has built doesn’t seem so far off.
The training program has already been implemented in 11 international NICUs and has shown great success in all of these different cultures and healthcare structures. Generally, the units go through an iterative training process, where part of the unit is trained and then those staff members become the trainers for the rest of the team. It is an extremely holistic approach, with leadership, physicians, nurses, and therapists necessarily involved for the curriculum to work. While it hasn’t been implemented in any U.S. units, the program could finally help us actually implement real family-centered care. Clearly, even Europeans have hesitations about letting go and fully trusting parents, but if they can do it, so can we.