Family Presence in the NICU

Constraints and Opportunities in the COVID-19 Era

Janelle Bainter; Marybeth Fry; Brenda Miller; Teesha Miller; Amy Nyberg; Alexa O'Dell; Ginny Shaffer; Lelis Vernon


Pediatr Nurs. 2020;46(5):256-259. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


With the advent of COVID-19, many hospitals changed their 'visiting' policies to protect staff and patients. Rather than welcoming families as partners in care, family presence was prohibited or sharply limited. The authors of this article, Family Faculty with the Vermont Oxford Network, describe the difficult impact these changes had on families with babies in NICUs – both on participation in care and also on integration of the family 'voice' at the policy level. The authors urge that the core concepts of patient- and family-centered care provide the foundation for future changes in policy as the pandemic continues.


The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives beyond measure. One of the many aspects of life impacted by COVID-19 has been health care delivery. Having a loved one in the hospital during the pandemic can be a challenging, even heartbreaking, experience. This is certainly true for families of newborns in intensive care.

For decades, clinicians and families have worked tirelessly to make family partnerships part of the culture of care in pediatric settings, including neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). (When using the term "family" here, we mean family members or other primary caregivers.) These partnerships were demonstrated on many levels, from welcoming family members at the bedside and including them in care decisions, to involving family members in quality improvement initiatives and in decision-making about policies and practices on units and in organizations (Dokken & Ahmann, 2006).