Penn Nursing students help new moms, newborns transition home

In 2015, mothers gave birth to more than 4,000 babies at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Kerrie Kelly, clinical faculty for the Department of Family and Community Health at Penn’s School of Nursing, aimed to help as many of those newborns as she could, through the “Baby-Friendly Transitions” program she co-created with colleagues Lucille Pilling and Monica Harmon.

“These are our most vulnerable patients, our babies,” says Kelly, who has a background in child protection and forensic nursing. “They really need this attention and support.”

Most of that comes by way of the students Kelly and her colleague Monica Drayton instruct in Nursing 380, an Academically Based Community Service course for undergraduates that facilitates safe transitions for mothers and babies home from the hospital. Since the program’s inception in 2014, 47 students have worked with more than 200 families on issues including postpartum depression, breastfeeding, car seat safety, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The students also pair up with maternal nurses from an outside organization and HUP social workers, as well as participate in patient discharge rounds with nursing leadership. They target mothers requiring additional support such as teen moms or those with social, socioeconomic, or language barriers.

“These are opportune times for students to work with these moms, paying special attention to them before they leave the hospital,” Kelly says.  

For the past two semesters, the future nurses’ big focus has been the city’s safe havens. The Newborn Protection Act, also called Safe Haven Pennsylvania, allows a parent to “leave a child in the care of a hospital … without being criminally liable, as long as the child is no older than 28 days and is not harmed.”

Nursing students ventured to Philadelphia hospitals to evaluate how well staff understood these laws, what the signage read, and where babies could actually be left, according to Kelly. They discovered a need to remove barriers like a security desk and crowded emergency room waiting areas a woman would have to pass before she could actually drop off the child.

One student suggested a new overall solution: Educate these parents to call 9-1-1, and then an EMS team performs the pick-up. Kelly brought the idea to the two city committees on which she sits, the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review and the Non-Homicide Child Death Review Team for the Medical Examiner’s Office. She’s also working with the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit and says she hopes to bring together these parties at a conference in late spring.

Though there will always be more new mothers to assist, Kelly says she’s proud of what Baby-Friendly Transitions has accomplished and how far her students have come.

“I’ve really seen [the program] grow deeper,” she says. “It’s so awesome we get these students so committed to helping these moms and babies.”

Baby Friendly