HackensackUMC Launches a New Program Marking Milestones in the NICU

August 4, 2015 10:07 AM
A NICU Story Bead sample.

Hackensack University Medical Center is launching a new program designed to mark milestones of attachment for its youngest patients and their families.  The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Story Beads Program recognizes significant moments in the form of a keepsake.

"The NICU can be a stressful experience for new parents with many ups and downs,” says Ellen Goldring, section chief of Child Life/Creative Arts Therapy at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HackensackUMC. “The beading program honors the strength and courage of the baby and the family, as well as the challenges and successes during this time.”

Families receive bead starter kits to build visual stories in the form of bead chains. Specific beads commemorate milestone events such as the baby’s naming, a first bath, or skin-to-skin holding, known as Kangaroo Care, which promotes bonding. There are also beads to signify milestone weights, such as membership in the two pound club.

“It’s helpful because it relieves a little bit of stress,” says Angelica Marti.  “It’s inspiring and it makes me more hopeful.” Angelica’s bead selections on behalf of her daughter, Alexandra, include an aquamarine color to mark Alexandra’s birthstone and a cross to signify their faith.

Each bead kit is wrapped in an organza bag and accompanied by a personalized card. Siblings can be included in the program to help raise their level of awareness and reduce stress. They receive big sister or big brother beads and are given the opportunity to create their own bead chain.

“Each bead is a bead of encouragement, commemorating milestones that the babies achieve on their NICU path,” says Cassandra Martin-Walters, nurse manager, NICU. She says the program helps parents tell their baby’s story and understand the journey. “They’re a precious keepsake and a badge of courage for the babies and their families.”

Funded by a grant from the Starlight Foundation, which covered the cost of the kits for one year, coordinators are eager to identify long-term sponsorship to sustain the program, which they say has tangible benefits well beyond the creation of these keepsakes.

“The NICU story beads correspond directly to the discharge planning charts received by parents,” says Stephanie Omens, the senior child life specialist who is implementing the program at HackensackUMC. “As parents learn and participate in their baby’s care, they receive corresponding beads to mark specific progress.” The new program is evolving based in part on feedback from participating families.

While most beading programs acknowledge the medical experience, Goldring says the HackensackUMC program is unique in the way it reinforces bonding with the baby. Attachment is generally fostered by the baby’s responses, but babies in the NICU may not be developmentally ready to give those external cues - and the caregiver may not be secure in the initial attachment. The beads provide concrete evidence of this nuanced process.

“It’s a way to nurture the nurturer and foster attachment in this unique environment. That is key to our program.” As an added benefit, Goldring says, “The simple act of holding and moving the beads promotes a sense of relaxation.”

On average, the NICU at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HackensackUMC admits 900 babies annually. Every family is invited to take part in the Story Beads Program. Each bead represents a chapter in the NICU story and a hopeful step on the path toward home.       

The bead chain that Angelica Marti is creating already has great significance. “I carry it with me every day,” she says. “When it’s complete, I will wear it and I will explain it to my daughter as she gets older. It’s her story.”

Photo:  A NICU Story Bead sample.

About Hackensack University Medical Center

HackensackUMC, a nonprofit teaching and research hospital located in Bergen County, NJ, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state. Founded in 1888 as the county’s first hospital, it is the flagship hospital of Hackensack University Health Network, one of the largest health networks in the state comprised of 1,717 beds, more than 10,000 team members and 3,300 credentialed physicians. HackensackUMC was listed as the number one hospital in New Jersey in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015-16 Best Hospital rankings - maintaining its place atop the NJ rankings since the rating system was introduced. It was also named one of the top four New York Metro Area hospitals. HackensackUMC is the only hospital in New Jersey, New York and New England to be named one of Healthgrades America's 50 Best Hospitals™ nine consecutive years, and receive the Healthgrades Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence™ 13 years in a row. The medical center is one of the top 25 green hospitals in the country according to Practice Greenhealth, and received 23 Gold Seals of Approval™ by the Joint Commission – more than any other hospital in the country. It was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet® recognized hospital for nursing excellence; receiving its fifth consecutive designation in 2014. HackensackUMC has created an entire campus of award-winning care, including: the John Theurer Cancer Center; the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital, which was designed with The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center and listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. HackensackUMC is the Hometown Hospital of the New York Giants and the New York Red Bulls and is Official Medical Services Provider to The Barclays PGA Golf Tournament. It remains committed to its community through fundraising and community events. To learn more, visit: www.HackensackUMC.org.   





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