Virginia Hospitals Support Early Intervention for Success Later in Life

VHHA’s Center for Healthcare Excellence recently embarked on a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) Collaborative. Its purpose is to improve the quantity and quality of referrals from hospital providers to early intervention (EI) services for children who are eligible or likely to be eligible for the program. The 18-month Collaborative, funded by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD), began in the fall of 2016. To date, 22 Virginia NICUs are partnering with their community’s EI service providers to improve childhood outcomes. Children are eligible for early intervention services if they have medical conditions that can delay development, or are not meeting established developmental milestones, among other automatically qualifying childhood conditions that meet eligibility criteria. Because many of the children eventually enrolled in EI programs were born prematurely, the NICU is an epicenter for case finding (see Figure 1 below). NICUs also often treat children affected by exposure to opioids or other narcotics, and those with other congenital or genetic abnormalities. Children experiencing these conditions may qualify for EI services. Virginia data show that most children have a relatively short length of stay in the NICU, while others may stay longer than 28 days (see Figure 2 below). All infants with a NICU length of stay greater than 28 days are to be referred to EI. NICU staffs are likely the first providers to encourage the partnership between parents and EI service providers at this early stage. Using these data, we understand the need to provide education, resources, and parent/family educational materials to NICU personnel to ensure children who may be eligible for EI are identified. Another goal of the Collaborative is to embolden NICU providers to work with families to ensure EI continues in the home after a child’s hospital discharge. Early intervention services are available for developmentally delayed or disabled children from birth until age 3. Acceptance into the program is not based on ability to pay. Beginning as early as possible is a key to success. Children with any type of developmental delay are at risk for missing crucial milestones in their growth and development, which can affect youngsters’ ability to learn and thrive as their peers do, extending into adulthood. EI helps children participate in things that are important to the family, and complements parents’ coaching and teaching of their children. Services are provided within a child’s home as part of families’ regular routine to better understand each child’s unique needs. EI managers provide customized developmental plans to meet personalized child and family needs. A byproduct of the Collaborative’ s work with the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia and the Arc of Virginia’s New Path is countless positive stories of benefits and improved outcomes for children who are identified, referred, and complete the EI program. In 2015, the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia reported that children enrolled in EI had increased social relationships, use of knowledge and skills, and improved personal need behaviors including feeding, dressing, and mobility. Participating families report increased knowledge of their rights, better ability to communicate their children’s needs, and enhanced ability to help their children develop and learn. The report can be found here. By participating in the Collaborative, Virginia hospitals are engaging more parents to partner with their EI providers to enable a brighter future for their children during their NICU stay and into the community. (8/25)

Figure 1:  Early Intervention Categories

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Figure 2:  Patient Length of Stay in Virginia NICUs

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