Pennsylvania Hospital rolled out the red carpet in September, decorated Elm Garden and the Pine Building grounds with golden star balloons and a mini-Hollywood Sign, and filled baskets with VIP passes for their superstar guests. These preparations weren’t for a themed awards ceremony or a fancy fundraiser, but for a special reunion for some very special individuals — the former patients of the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN).
More than 5,000 babies are delivered at PAH annually, but some require extra time at the hospital before they can go home. Some are born premature and need support to grow and develop, while others are acutely ill and need advanced neonatal care. But whether the infants stay in the ICN for a few hours or a few months, the journey can be overwhelming for their anxious parents. That’s where the ICN’s nurses, physicians, neonatologists, respiratory therapists, and other staff come in.
“We have the opportunity to connect with people when they need support most. It’s so important that moms and dads know they can trust us and that they don’t need to worry when they go home,” said Stephanie Hollister, BSN, RN, assistant nurse manager. “We’re really blessed to be able to build such strong, positive relationships with these children and families, and I think that’s unique about our care environment.” And those relationships don’t end after discharge.
Every two years, the ICN team joins forces with the Penn Medicine development staff, ICN Family Advisory Council volunteers, the grounds keeping team, and other staff to put on this much-beloved event. This year marked the 5th biannual reunion, and more than 800 guests turned out to celebrate — the biggest group yet! The team raised money to organize the event by holding bake sales and water ice throughout the year, and an additional $6,000 was raised through the raffle baskets available at the reunion. In addition to the annual group photo, this year’s fun-filled festivities included a slime table, crafts, face painting, a balloon artist, a magician, a reading area, lawn games, an ice cream truck, and much more.
ICN nurse and planning committee co-chair AnneMarie Deeley, BSN, RN, RNC-NIC, loves being part of the planning process each year, and especially enjoyed watching “our glammed-up nurses ‘interview’ families as they walked the red carpet.”
Michelle Sohlich-Miller, BSN, RNC-NIC, also an ICN nurse and committee co-chair, explained that they created big letter blocks that the kids could stack and knock over, but the blocks became a popular photo-op location.With the hospital steps in the background and the families smiling on the blocks, every photo was like a visual representation of the closure this reunion can bring. “Seeing everyone wait in line excitedly to take that picture made me very proud of all the hard work we all did,” she said. “And to see how much the babies have grown is always so fulfilling!”
The reunion not only gave families the chance to renew their bonds with the unit staff, but it also presented them with an opportunity to meet other parents who have been in their shoes. One mother stopped by even though her now-18-year old son had to work. She shared his most recent milestone — high school graduation — with the care team members she still remembered by name and offered hope for the future with families at an earlier stage of their journey. The Laury triplets, now seven months old, also made an appearance with their parents.
And the event is a meaningful experience for staff, too. “To see a child born so very sick and requiring significant care and follow up at discharge just a few years ago now walking around and thriving is so rewarding,”said Elizabeth Quigley, MSN, RNC, NEA-BC, nurse manager. “Seeing kids who have already been through so much growing up strong, happy, and healthy — it’s so uplifting and connects us to the value of the work that we’re doing.”