Neonatal hospitalization leaves parents feeling isolated, separated during pandemic

Emotional exhaustion, isolation and "nonsensical” visitor and other hospital policies contributed to parents of children hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units feeling less satisfied with care during the early days of COVID-19.

Research from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Marquette University and University of Nebraska Medical Center examined the family impact and financial well-being of 178 parents whose infants were hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units between Feb. 1 and July 31, 2020, during the early period of COVID-19.

Parents reported significant family impact and greater financial difficulty. Extremely premature infants, lower household income, parental mental health and lower parental confidence were predictive of greater impacts on family life, said Ashlee Vance, first author, who was a postdoctoral researcher at U-M during the study. Vance is now an assistant scientist at Henry Ford Health System at the Center for Health Policy and Health Services Research.

The scores were from a sample of parents in hospitals across the United States.

Overall, parents reported that the experience of NICU hospitalization during the early months of the pandemic was one of emotional exhaustion and isolation. Parents reported they felt changes in visitor policies due to COVID "split” the family unit, were "nonsensical,” and not family-centered. Parents also reported that they wanted to be valued as essential caregivers, and wanted acknowledgment and empathy from health care providers about the challenges of having an infant in the NICU during a pandemic.

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