SLBMC receives global recognition for its high standard of neonatal care

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Ann Marie Issac Departmental Nurse Manager of Maternity and Outpatient Departments (left) and Samantha Moitt, Chief Nutrition Officer for the Ministry of Health holding the ‘baby-friendly’ plaque
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By Kenicia Francis

[email protected]

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) bestowed the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center (SLBMC) with an award for being ‘baby-friendly’ due to its standard of neonatal care.

The Deputy Director of PAHO, Mary Lou Valdez, and her team presented a plaque detailing the accomplishment after touring the hospital’s lab and maternity unit. 

According to the Departmental Nurse Manager of Maternity and Outpatient Clinic, Ann Marie Browne Isaac, “basically ‘baby-friendly’ means that we’re optimising the health of our newborns, facilitating bonding between them and their mothers and fathers.

“If you look around our community, you may see a lot of children who are obese or malnourished. This initiative is to help to minimize the amount of non-communicable diseases in the country, like diabetes, hypertension, and certain forms of cancers. So being baby-friendly is not only beneficial to the baby, but it’s also beneficial to the parents as well. It’s a holistic approach to care.”

Samantha Moitt, Chief Nutrition Officer for the Ministry of Health explained that “this plaque is a culmination of work for over five years. We would have become certified as baby-friendly back in September 2023. However, we now have received the official plaque for it. This process would have started back in 2018 when we developed our infant and young child feeding policy. Since then, we have done quite a bit of robust training among the staff, and when we say the staff, not just nurses and doctors in maternity, but all staff. This includes housekeeping, orderlies, the kitchen, reception, to make them aware of what this is about. After that was the assessment, which was quite tough in itself.

“We had external assessors from PAHO that came, they asked questions of the staff, mothers, they questioned the fathers. It was quite in-depth,” Moitt added.

“The purpose of those questions was to see how well we were adopting the 10 steps that PAHO set out, which would include things like babies rooming in with their mothers 24 hours a day, not being fed via bottle, getting support after delivery to breastfeed. And one of the most important things was skin to skin contact for an hour right after delivery. So, the assessment was quite robust, and it took quite a team effort for us to get where we are today. That’s why we’re quite delighted to now have this plaque in our hands as a reward for our accomplishments.”

Issac told Observer that “the staff played a major role in us receiving this plaque and our nutrition officers in the community, our district nurse midwives, our distributors. Our head of the pediatric department, Dr Shivon Bell Jarvis was super supportive of the mission, she was one of the driving forces behind the whole process. Rachel Brown was instrumental in helping us develop our customer service skills so we were able to bond with the mothers and fathers, adding that extra niche that the customer would appreciate. We had a lot of people who came on board, our reception manager, our housekeeping managers, our IT, our radiology department. Even our director of nursing, Jacqueline Jno-Baptist, our medical director, Dr Albert Duncan, every area in this hospital was on board for this whole initiative to be possible.

“We would get calls, how are we doing? What do we need to be doing today? It was really beneficial in the long run that people understood the mission and were 100 percent on board to get the job done. I must say a heartfelt thank you to the staff of the neonatal intensive care and maternity unit. Our antenatal care nurse who was instrumental in preparing the mothers before they come to maternity, what to expect, what we allow, even educating our mothers about the importance of doing the skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for the benefits to the mother and the baby. It’s definitely a team approach,” she said.

Both Issac and Moitt explained that they reached out to people and organisations outside of the hospital to ensure they’re also distributing the appropriate care to parents across the twin isles. 

“We used breastfeeding mothers, people who did not work in the hospital, we also had a lady who’s a lactation specialist from outside of the hospital. Anyone that’s interested in breastfeeding, we pulled them on board so that we can get their participation. Medical benefits as well came on board. With the private institutions and doctors, we gave them our messaging, booklets, posters, that sort of stuff,” Moitt said.

“In Barbuda, they have facilities, midwives, and doctors over there. We are presently assisting them to maximise safety because it’s quite a challenge to get a mother from Barbuda to Antigua in the event of an emergency. Babies can be born in Barbuda, and once a mother is in labour, we are notified here in Antigua, so everybody is aware that this is going to happen. It’s a team effort right across the board, even in the labour and the delivery process.

“This is something being discussed at the Ministry level. How can we make sure that the hospital is up to standard to facilitate safe delivery? What do they need to have in place to ensure that if a mother or baby runs into trouble, that care is accessible within 15 minutes maximum?”

This accreditation is invaluable to the current and future parents in the twin island nation. 

It comes at a time when the Trinidadian Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh is still awaiting an update from PAHO about that country’s investigation into the Port-of-Spain General Hospital due to the recent infant deaths caused by the spread of a bacterial infection in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

According to the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, “Since the initial cluster of baby deaths, other parents have come forward alleging their infants died due to negligence at the hospital’s NICU.”

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