Community Spotlight: NICU Care Bags at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

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In 2017, Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach began partnering with the Child Life Department for the Pediatric Inpatient Ward at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP). NMCP is one of the largest and the oldest continuously operating Naval hospitals in the country. It proudly serves past and present military members, as well as their families, in Hampton Roads and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic region. The Child Life Department specifically serves the patients and their families during inpatient admissions to help them feel more comfortable and more in control of their hospital stay. Child Life provides games and activities to the kids to help pass the time, but also uses play and age-appropriate interventions to help children understand their illness, reduce their anxieties and develop positive coping skills. 

Through a conversation with NMCP’s Child Life specialist, Chris Brogan, about how the League could support the children and their families, JLNVB’s Hospital Book Delivery program was formed. Twice per month, JLNVB members visited the hospital to spend time with the patients and give each child—and often times, their sibling who was there visiting as well— a new age-appropriate book to call their own. This program quickly became a staple of the Children’s Initiatives Committee and JLNVB’s focus area of Childhood Literacy. The program was also the first JLNVB program in many years that directly supported military service-members and their families, a key part of our local community here in Norfolk-Virginia Beach.  

After just a few visits to the Pediatric Ward, it came to the League’s attention that NMCP’s Child Life Department had a unique problem that other hospitals didn’t. As a government institution, it is not legally allowed to seek donations, an act seen as solicitation and therefore forbidden by law. That meant it cannot ask the public for things like games, toys, and care packages, that other medical facilities can easily seek assistance for. “If CHKD needed a new DVD player for one of their playrooms, they could write a press release and would probably get 10 DVD players donated to them by the very next day!” a staff member shared, “We can’t do that here though. We have to wait until someone reaches out to us and asks what we need.” 

With this new information in mind, JLNVB’s Community Council brainstormed how else we could support the hospital, particularly in regards to Women’s Health, JLNVB’s other focus area. 

The result: JLNVB’s NICU Care Bags, a program modeled after the Roc Solid Foundation’s Ready Bags which provides pre-made care packages to families the day their child is diagnosed with cancer. Similar to the Ready Bags, our NICU Care Bags include items a family might need for an unexpected hospital stay to help ease some of the anxiety during what can be the most difficult time they’ve ever faced.  

Often times, the women who find themselves with a new baby in the neonatal intensive care unit—otherwise known as the NICU—end up there unexpectedly. Whether this is due to a premature birth or a complication that occurs during delivery, these new mothers and parents may have to stay in the hospital for much longer than they anticipated, and without their day-to-day necessities. 

JLNVB’s NICU Care Bags are designed to serve these parents during a time when they need it most, in hopes of reducing some of the anxiety they may be feeling. Currently, these NICU bags contain the following:

  • Personal care items (including lotion, chapstick, hair ties, etc)
  • Hand Sanitizer 
  • Tissues
  • Laundry bag 
  • Stress Ball 
  • Notebook and pen 
  • Receiving blanket
  • Baby book
  • A handwritten note from JLNVB members 

These items are packed with care by JLNVB into a reusable tote, with the Junior League’s Unstoppable logo on the face—a sentiment that echoes the Junior League’s charge to be an unstoppable force for good in the community; the strength and resilience demonstrated by many NICU families; and the dedication of the hospital staff who will stop at no lengths to care for the smallest of patients, NICU babies.

The bags are then delivered to NMCP once per month, alongside the Hospital Book Delivery program. League members hand-deliver the bags to the mothers with a smile to let them know that we are thinking of them.  As an added benefit to our members, Chris (NMCP’s Child Life Specialist) graciously includes an informational tour of the NICU with each bag delivery so that JLNVB members who have not visited before can learn more about neonatal and maternal health. 

To date, JLNVB has provided over 100 NICU Care Bags to mothers and their babies at NMCP. JLNVB’s Women’s Initiatives Committee (WIC) is currently looking into ways to expand this signature program to serve other medical facilities in our community.

If you’re interested in learning more about the NICU, maternal care and how our efforts impact women in the community, make sure to join WIC at the Maternal Health Talk  on the evening of November 14, 2019! Stay tuned to our e-blast and Digital Cheetah for more info.