Southeast Health Medical Center offers volunteer reading program for NICU patients

Newborns in intensive care aren't able to get the same amount of human exposure as they might get at home, which is why the hospital offers the program.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 7:35 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Southeast Health Medical Center cares for patients of all ages. One way people can lend a helping hand for their youngest patients is through their reading and cuddling program in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“We work with our families to make sure that the children get good contact, good exposure to human touch and human voice,” Tim Mayhall, the director of spiritual care at Southeast Health, said.

Newborns in intensive care are not always able to get the same amount of human interaction or exposure to a human’s voice as they might get at home. This is why the hospital offers the reading and cuddle program.

“We began this program to support our families and especially to support these little babies as they meet the challenges of their new lives,” Mayhall said.

Volunteers help patients meet their full potential, according to Mayhall. He said by cuddling or reading to these patients it helps ensure these babies get all of the good stimulus needed to grow as quickly and fully as they can.

“The sound of a soothing human voice, or the gentle touch is important not only to their happiness but also to their long-term growth,” Mayhall said.

Devash Dehale is the director of health systems engineering. He said the care for their cognitive development and mental well-being is just as important as medical care.

“We are really using a lot of evidence-based documentation being conducted across many academic institutions,” Dehale said. “These institutions have actually realized, like what we thought previously, babies actually thrive when they have human contact whether it is physical contact as well as emotional contact that we can offer through doing things such as reading to them.”

Impacting not only their strength while in the NICU, but an impact that will last a lifetime.

“But also with how they grow up and be great, responsible human beings,” Dehale said.

The Southeast Health Foundation provided funds for these books to make this program possible.

Mayhall said they are all working together from the beginning to the end. These books are given to the families as gifts.

“We are all a part of the team that has been put together to care for this child. so, families appreciate they have active caregivers supporting their hard work in loving their child,” Mayhall said. “So, families appreciate they have active caregivers supporting their hard work in loving their child and we of course always encourage parents to participate as much as they can and be as present as they can and be as present with their babies while they are here.”

Volunteers must have certain vaccines to help in the NICU.

“The Tdap and the MMRV which is the measles, mumps, rubella,” Jamie Weeks, the volunteer services manager, said. “You have to have those shots in order to even start in the cuddle program.”

An orientation is required for all hospital volunteers. However, there is an additional orientation for when volunteering in the NICU.

“You also have to go through a specific cuddle program orientation that teaches you about how to sanitize your hands and scrub in before you go in. the do’s and don’ts, you know, we don’t ever wake a sleeping baby,” Weeks said.

The medical center is always looking for volunteers.

“Volunteering is a great way to get out and help people whether it be our youngest patients in the NICU or whether it be our senior adults or even just visitors in the hospital,” Weeks said. “We love to have volunteers who are here that can spend a little time with our patients and be there just to provide that comfort and support for them that maybe their nurse who is just coming in to give them their medications and check on their pain levels and all of those things and our volunteers can come in and check on their emotional well-being and support in those ways.”

You can contact the volunteer services department to sign up at (334)793-8122.

Subscribe to our News 4 newsletter and receive the latest local news and weather straight to your email every morning. Get instant notifications on top stories from News 4 by downloading our mobile apps.