Clear masks help Mom and Dad bond with intensive-care newborns
When Sandra Coughlin, NNP, noticed that two babies in her Neonatal Intensive Care Unit weren’t smiling at their parents, she was pretty sure it was because the adults’ faces were half-covered with masks and not easy to recognize or mimic.
So the neonatal nurse practitioner at United Health Services Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, N.Y., set about finding transparent masks that would allow the newborns to better see and bond with Mom and Dad.
“Prior to COVID-19, we often saw the newborns start smiling at a very early stage,” Ms. Coughlin said. “The lack of a smile on two of our babies who had been with us for many days got me thinking. It was just a little observation I made.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital visitors and support persons are required to wear masks, even if they are parents with their babies in the intensive care suite.
Ms. Coughlin noted that the jury in the scientific community is still out on whether infants actually mimic their parents’ facial expressions, such as smiles, but being able to get a clear look can’t hurt and is all part of the bonding process.
Starting her search, Ms. Coughlin talked with colleagues in the medical center’s Speech Pathology and Audiology departments, where staff members wear clear masks to communicate with patients who are hearing-impaired but read lips.
She located one mask that could be used by an infant’s parent. Then she connected with Christine English, RN, manager of Infection Prevention and Control at United Health Services Hospitals.
Ms. English, one of United Health Services’ experts on personal protective equipment (PPE), was able to arrange for transparent masks to be purchased through the healthcare system’s Supply Chain Department.
“These are disposable masks that are similar to the common surgical masks many people wear, but are transparent, allowing the wearer’s mouth to be visible,” Ms. English said. “They are not worn by healthcare workers for every patient encounter, but only in special circumstances to meet a specific need.”
Allison Hores, RN, nurse manager at United Health Services Wilson’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, credits Ms. Coughlin with pursuing something important for the NICU families.
“It’s very heartwarming to know that the newborns are able to see and bond with their parents, and shows Sandra’s commitment to our goal of always improving the patient experience,” she said.
Ms. Coughlin noted that COVID-19 has created learning experiences for everyone.
“COVID is brand-new,” she said. “We are still learning from it, adapting to its unique challenges and responding to patients’ needs.”