Volunteers can provide staff-directed sensory inputs to infants hospitalized in the NICU, but research on volunteer programs is limited.
To evaluate the feasibility of a developmental care partner (DCP) program in a level III NICU and determine its relationship with provider burnout and infant infection rates.
DCPs were trained to provide sensory input to infants, based on the behavioral cues observed by the occupational therapists and nursing staff, in medically stable infants. Feasibility was assessed by documenting the process of training and utilizing volunteers, as well as tracking duration and frequency of DCP visits. Staff burnout measures were assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS) before and after implementation. Infant infection rates before and after the introduction of volunteers were compared. Results: Seventy-two volunteers were interested, and 25 (35%) completed the DCP competencies and provided sensory exposures to 54 neonates, who were visited an average of 8 times (range 1-15). Twelve (48%) DCPs did once-per-week visits, and 9 (36%) did at least 50 contact hours. MBI-HSS scores for staff emotional exhaustion (P < .001) and depersonalization (P < .006) were lower after DCP implementation. There were no differences in infant infection rates before and after DCP implementation (Fisher exact P = 1.000).
Volunteer-based DCP programs may be feasible to implement in community hospitals and could help reduce staff emotional exhaustion and depersonalization without increasing the incidence of infant infections.
Future research on NICU volunteer programs with larger sample sizes and different infant populations is warranted.
Departments of Communication Studies (Ms Clubbs) and Economics (Dr Gray), Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau; Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Saint Francis Medical Center, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (Dr Barnette and Mss Bond and Harden); Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Dr Weiner); and Program in Occupational Therapy, Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri (Dr Pineda).
Correspondence: Brooke Hildebrand Clubbs, MFA, MS, Southeast Missouri State University, 1 University Plaza, MS#3225, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701 (email@example.com).
Funding to start the original NICU volunteer program was provided by a mini-grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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