Swedish First Site in State to Offer New Support Program for Families with Hospitalized Premature In

Swedish First Site in State to Offer New Support Program for Families with Hospitalized Premature Infants

SEATTLE, April 13, 2005 - Swedish Medical Center has been selected by the March of Dimes as the first site in Washington state to implement an innovative program providing enhanced information and comfort to families of premature and other critically ill newborns. The three-year Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Family Support Program is funded by a $90,000 grant from Premera Blue Cross and a matching $90,000 grant from the March of Dimes.

"Preparing for a new baby is a time of great excitement," said Elaine Noonan, state director of the March of Dimes in Washington state. "Families don't expect anything to go wrong, but each year about one in 10 newborns is born prematurely, and many of these infants are in a NICU for an extended period. The hospitalization of an infant can be one of the most frightening, confusing and overwhelming experiences a parent can have."

In Washington state, almost 7,900 babies are born preterm every year, and the rates are increasing. Rates are highest in ethnic groups such as Native Americans (13.6 percent), African Americans (13.4 percent), Hispanics (10 percent), and Asians (10 percent) with the lowest rate in whites (9.2 percent). Some risk factors are known, such as smoking, infections and poor nutrition, but in 50 percent of premature births, no cause is known.

Preterm births extract a daunting toll physically, emotionally and financially. Developmental problems and added medical needs can last for many years. Nationally, hospital costs alone for a premature baby average $79,000, compared to about $1,500 for a routine birth. Nationwide, hospital costs for prematurity are estimated at $15.5 billion per year.

"The March of Dimes selected Swedish Medical Center as the site for NICU Family Support because of its reputation for excellence," Noonan said. "The goal of the three partners - Swedish, Premera and March of Dimes - is to launch this program and develop new benchmarks and practices for helping families of premature infants that could be implemented at other hospitals." Of the more than 7,000 babies delivered at Swedish each year, about 700 critically ill newborns need care in Swedish's Level-III NICU, one of the first and largest in Washington state.

"We're looking forward to this collaborative effort," said Terry Sweeney, M.D., medical director of neonatology at Swedish Medical Center. "This program will allow us to offer a greater level of support and education to these special families when they need it most."

"We're excited about supporting this effort because it draws on the power of a collaborative team to do what no one could do on their own," said Dr. Corinne Bell, medical director for Premera Blue Cross. "The real power of this collaboration is the program's focus on bringing together families who have had their own preemies with those going through it for the first time. We hope this collaboration will serve as a model that can be used to help families with preterm babies more broadly in Washington in the future."

Program components of the NICU Family Support Program include:

  • A part-time NICU Family Support Specialist interfacing with Swedish families and staff
  • A volunteer parent-professional action committee
  • A base of direct service volunteers helping support and comfort NICU families
  • Educational materials in the Parent Care Kit, such as Keepsake Journal, NICU Guide & Glossary, First Days: Parenting in the NICU video, When Baby Comes Early: A Parent's Guide to Prematurity video, and Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies
  • Continuing education training for nurses

The NICU Family Support Project is made possible by fund-raising events like March of Dimes WalkAmerica. The Seattle event will take place on May 1st at Qwest Field. "It's a family-oriented way to offer help and hope to families who have experienced premature birth," said Elaine Noonan. "It's easy to register by visiting www.walkamerica.org."

The NICU Family Support Project is an important component of the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign, a multi-year, $75 million effort to address the growing problem of premature birth, which is a leading cause of newborn death in America. Nationally, March of Dimes NICU Family Support receives multi-year funding from Pediatrix Medical Group and MedImmune, Inc. Additional support is provided by Dey, L.P.

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About Swedish Medical Center
Swedish Medical Center is the largest, most comprehensive, nonprofit health provider in the Pacific Northwest. It is comprised of three hospital campuses (First Hill, Providence and Ballard), a new community-based emergency room and specialty center in Issaquah, Swedish Home Care Services and Swedish Physicians - a network of 12 primary-care clinics. In addition to general medical and surgical care, Swedish is known as a regional referral center, providing specialized treatment in areas such as cardiac care, oncology, orthopedics, high-risk obstetrics, neurological care, sleep medicine, pediatrics, organ transplantation and clinical research. For more information, visit www.swedish.org

About Premera Blue Cross
Our mission is to provide peace of mind to our members about their health-care coverage. We provide health insurance and related services to more than 1.3 million people in Washington and Alaska. Premera Blue Cross has operated in Washington since 1933, and Alaska since 1957. Premera Blue Cross is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Premera Blue Cross is a member of a family of companies based in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, that provide health, life, vision, dental, and long-term care insurance, and other related services, in multiple western states.

About the March of Dimes
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 and in 2003 launched a five-year campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish Web site at www.nacersano.org

Related Media Coverage

  • To read the transcript of a related story that KING Television (channel 5; NBC) aired on April 20, 2005, click here.
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