November 14, 2017

Examining pediatric palliative care needs of infants and their families

A two-year, $154,000 grant will help Erin Currie, Ph.D., study pediatric palliative care needs in the Deep South.
Written by: Jimmy Creed
Media contact: Adam Pope, arpope@uab.edu


erin currie 2017Erin Currie, Ph.D.University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Assistant Professor Erin Currie, Ph.D., has received a two-year, $154,000 National Palliative Care Research Center junior faculty career development award to examine the pediatric palliative care needs of infants in neonatal intensive care units and their parents in the Deep South.

Currie — the only nurse among this year’s five recipients — will explore the reach, quality and impact of pediatric palliative care services for historically underrepresented populations that experience health disparities due to geographic and sociocultural factors through her study, “Do Health Disparities in the Deep South Impact Neonatal Palliative Care? Parents Perspectives.” 

“Pediatric palliative care — which focuses on comprehensive and holistic care for the families and helps with quality of life, symptom management and spiritual suffering — adds a layer of support for seriously ill infants and their parents,” Currie said. “Pediatric palliative care is a comprehensive safety net for parents, and I am going to focus my research efforts on increasing access to that safety net for them.”

Currie says health disparities are widespread throughout the Deep South, and palliative care access is no exception. She says it is especially prevalent for infants and children because of the limited access to specialized palliative care providers. Of the 23,446 infant deaths in the United States in 2013, the majority occurred in an intensive care unit within the first 28 days of life.

“I want my study — which is the first of its kind in the Deep South — to enhance quality of life for seriously ill infants and ease the pain and suffering of their parents by improving and encouraging early access to pediatric palliative care.”                                                         

“As a NICU nurse at the bedside, I have seen parents suffering to make heartbreaking decisions and watching the last days of their infant’s life unfold without adequate support,” Currie said. “I want my study — which is the first of its kind in the Deep South — to enhance quality of life for seriously ill infants and ease the pain and suffering of their parents by improving and encouraging early access to pediatric palliative care.”                                                         

Using infant medical record reviews and interviews with parents after an infant’s death in a NICU, Currie will identify unmet palliative care and other needs the parents encountered during their child’s hospitalization near time of death and during the subsequent bereavement period. This will provide much-needed data to help develop an intervention to aid parents of seriously ill children during and following such difficult hospitalizations.

“Research shows that parents who have lost a child are at a higher risk for poor health outcomes as compared with parents who have not lost a child,” Currie said. “Improving access to early palliative care may mitigate some of these and other burdens felt by families facing such serious illnesses.”

For this study, Currie will be collaborating with NICUs at Children’s of Alabama, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, for the study. 

“The UAB School of Nursing is an incredible place to do this kind of research,” Currie said. “I am excited that my dissertation research is transitioning directly into the career research I have chosen to focus on. It is particularly satisfying that my time at the UAB School of Nursing has given me a solid platform to build on as I seek to reduce health disparities and enhance the quality of life for infants with serious illness and their parents.”

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