Helen DeVos Children's Hospital

Nancy DeVos Children's Hospital

Helen DeVos Children's Hospital (HDVCH), a member of Spectrum Health, is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center is a Level IV, 108-bed Regional NICU, which admits 1,200+ babies each year from 38 counties in Michigan. The Children's Hospital was made possible by a generous $50 million gift by the children of Rich and Helen DeVos in honor of Helen. This gift jumpstarted a capital campaign that raised $103 million. In the fall of 2006, construction began for the new Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, which opened in 2011.

Spectrum Health HDVCH's mission is to "improve the health of the communities we serve."

Dr. Leonard Radecki (Neonatologist) and Marcia Eager (NICU Nurse Manager) served as the initial founders of the peer mentoring program in 1973; coordinated by Mary DeWys (Nurse Researcher) from 1983-85 and Judy Levick, MSW, Marie Quinn, BSN, Carole Vennema, RN/Parent, from 1985 to 2015. Currently, Judy Levick, MSW, and Jane Fannon, BSN, are Coordinators.


HDVCH's Neonatal Parent-to-Parent Partnership (PPP) volunteers report directly to the social work and nurse coordinators. The coordinators report to the NICU Nurse Manager. The educational levels of the staffing at HDVCH include a MSW and BSN. Salary ranges are based on personnel and other roles, and are comparable to similar positions within the hospital. The two employees contribute 32 hours per week towards PPP coordination, along with other NICU family support initiatives, such as bereavement. All operations within the PPP are financially supported by the NICU and HDVCH Foundation.

The NICU PPP began in 1973, when the Butterworth Hospital (hospital name at that time) NICU opened its doors. It began as an informal one-to-one support based on geographical location and there was no formal training. In 1983, NICU Parent-to-Parent Program conducted a three-year pilot research project with the Institute for Family and Child Study at Michigan State University. The quasi-experimental, longitudinal study involved 80 families-40 families receiving the care and support of a trained, supervised parent volunteer and 40 families in the comparison group who received the existing NICU support services (social work, staff-led parent support, and educational groups) but were not matched with a trained parent volunteer. In response to the positive study results, the PPP was formally established, including training, with ongoing guaranteed hospital funding. The same three part-time staff, which included a MSW, BSN, & RN/Parent coordinated this program for 30 years. Currently, a MSW and BSN are coordinators.


The HDVCH uses different forms of Peer Models. One-to-one matching is based primarily on diagnosis and other similar life circumstances. "Parent-to-Parent Partnership Dinners" are facilitated by trained PPP volunteers who bring the meal with 1-2 staff members who attend as a resource, if needed. "Visiting Parents" round the NICU, providing informal peer support to families. Peer mentor programs are expanding in many other Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital departments, such as in pediatrics and adults, inpatient and outpatient. Some programs include cardiology, oncology, nephrology, and the intensive feeding clinic.

There are approximately 80-100 peer mentors at any given time; both as individuals and as couples providing peer support. The peer mentors are recruited by hospital staff, from parent surveys, and from other peer-to-peer parent recommendations. There is a 10-12 hour training mandatory for every peer volunteer. The HDVCH NICU uses a well-developed and continually updated 94-page training manual and 30-page facilitator guide, authored by PPP Coordinators and a PPP Volunteer who is a professional writer. Training materials are used by more than 100 March of Dimes NICU Family Support sites throughout the United States. All trainings are conducted and facilitated by the PPP Social Work and Nurse Coordinators. The most productive and effective trainings include 8 to 12 participants for four weekly, two-to-three-hours sessions. After their training, there is ongoing education in the form of in-services and emails about medical, practice, and unit updates. Peers are matched at the discretion of the social work and nurse coordinators. NICU parents are made aware of the Parent-to-Parent Partnership via their NICU parent mailboxes and information from staff.

Peers are recognized through holiday celebrations with their children and other events sponsored by Spectrum Health Volunteer Services. Peers are evaluated by parent surveys—both informally and formally. The HDVCH takes these parent suggestions and evaluations seriously to improve and sustain the parent-to-parent partnership. For example, as a result of the survey data, breast milk support programs have been added in both OB Special Care and NICU, based on feedback and ideas from current and former NICU parents.

Judy Levick, MSW, ACSW, LMSW
Jane Fannon, BSN, CLC
100 Michigan St., NE, MC 35
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Website: www.helendevoschildrens.org

Contact Judy Levick for additional PPP information, training resources, and for more information about their research paper, title and abstract below.

Levick, J, Quinn, M, Vennema, C. NICU Parent-to-Parent Partnerships: A Comprehensive Approach, Neonatal Network, Vol. 33, No. 2, March/April 2014.
Abstract: Parents of newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) find themselves in a world of unknown medical terminology, advanced technology, and the realization that their dream of a healthy baby has been shattered. The unique partnership with trained parent-to-parent volunteers, who have had previous NICU experiences, enhances professional support and helps new NICU parents adjust to these unexpected challenges. This practice-based article describes the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital NICU Parent-to-Parent Partnership's (PPP) 40-year commitment to the parent-to-parent philosophy and its comprehensive approach to delivering trained volunteer PPP services to NICU families. A historical review of the literature, including this hospital's original research, current programming, recruiting, training, supervision, and survey feedback, is outlined.