Joplin, Mo – “Babies in the NICU are our most fragile patients, and we’re proud of the care they receive,” said Paula F. Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer. Now, that care includes volunteers who will cuddle babies when their parents can’t. The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Program was announced Tuesday, but the first group of Cuddlers is already in place, beginning their shifts in November.
“Our volunteer Cuddlers hold babies in their arms, rock them gently, read to them and sometimes even sing to them softly, comforting them when the parents are unable to be there,” said Baker. “Leaving a baby in the NICU, whether for one hour or for one day, is difficult for parents. The Cuddler volunteers help bridge that gap with a soothing embrace.”
Requirements to become a volunteer Cuddler include: interview and selection, background check, drug screen, physical, immunizations/titers and flu shots. They have onboarding with the Cuddler Coordinator, Volunteer Services Program Manager and NICU nurses. They are trained in safety, confidentiality, infection prevention and control, and the NICU handwashing protocol.
The Cuddlers do not feed, change or get up and walk with infants but offer the comfort of loving arms and calming voices.
“Over the past 26 years, thousands of prematurely born and critically ill infants have received a fighting chance at life thanks to our care team,” Baker added. Now, they get an added level of support from the Cuddler program.
“Twenty-five years ago, my first grandchild was a NICU patient at Freeman,” said Cuddler Program Coordinator Karen Graham. So eight years ago, when Graham, a registered nurse, learned about the Cuddler Program in neonatal intensive care units, she set herself on a mission to bring it to her hometown of Joplin. Now her dream is a reality.