March 8, 2019

Home Visits Give New Parents ‘Peace of Mind’

Heather Baker and her son Caleb

Heather Baker and her son Caleb

After receiving the all clear for her son, Caleb, to leave the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Heather Baker was nervous.

Although she’s a registered nurse, she doesn’t work with newborns, and as a new mom she wasn’t sure about the transition to life without the 24-hour expert care and all the sophisticated monitoring devices.

“I’ve been watching this monitor for the past five weeks,” Baker said, noting that Caleb’s low heart rate had been a primary concern for the NICU staff. “When I get home, I won’t have the monitor to look at, just him.”

To ease the transition, Baker is taking advantage of a new program in which health care professionals from UAMS travel the state to assist families with their high-risk newborns after they’ve been discharged.

Called “Following Baby Back Home,” the UAMS KIDS FIRST and ANGELS (Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System) program targets families that live outside a 50-mile radius of Little Rock. Families within a 50-mile radius of Little Rock are served by another program.

The health care teams visit babies discharged from UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and other nurseries throughout the state that care for high-risk newborns.

When parents bring their baby home from the NICU, their joy is often replaced with anxiety, said KIDS FIRST Medical Director Patrick H. Casey, M.D., Harvey and Bernice Jones Professor of Developmental Pediatrics.

“The reality of caring for a medically complex infant can quickly become overwhelming,” Casey said. “Learning about medical equipment and medications, keeping up with appointments, watching for signs of complications, all while caring for a tiny newborn and possibly other children can take its toll on the entire family.”

Home visits will be done at the request of the family and as part of each baby’s NICU discharge plan. Each visiting team includes a pediatric registered nurse and a care coordinator who works with the child’s primary and specialty care providers. The visiting team will encourage the family to keep medical appointments and get immunizations for the baby while building the family’s skills and confidence in providing a safe, nurturing home.

Following Baby Back Home services, funded by a state Medicaid contract, are available in the northeast, northwest and southern regions of the state, with offices in Newport, Lowell and Pine Bluff.

Baker, who lives between Rison and Warren, said she and her husband, Randall, are looking forward to the visits.

“It gives us peace of mind knowing that they’ll be there once a week, and they’ll come for up to a year if that’s necessary,” she said.