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USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital expands Bridge Program to serve more patients

USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital expands Bridge Program to serve more patients

The Bridge Program has expanded beyond pregnancy to encompass care for pediatric patients with medical complexities, including hospice and palliative care for children admitted to Children’s & Women’s Hospital.

Published May 15th, 2024

By Casandra Andrews

For years, the Bridge Program at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital has been a lifeline for families who receive an unexpected fetal diagnosis. The program was launched to support pregnant mothers struggling with fetal anomalies – conditions that can affect a fetus or embryo and may be fatal or cause ongoing health issues.

As new needs emerged, the Bridge Program expanded beyond pregnancy to include care for pediatric patients with medical complexities, as well as hospice and palliative care for those admitted to Children’s & Women’s Hospital.

“Our goal is to help children and families set goals to live their best life possible, while navigating serious or numerous medical conditions,” said Brandy Merritt, M.D., a pediatric critical care specialist and lead physician for the Bridge Program.

Other staff members working in the program are also specially trained to serve the unique needs of a child’s complex medical diagnosis and include a registered nurse and advanced practice provider. Their goal is to work closely with a patient’s primary medical team, including case managers, child life specialists and members of children’s therapy services.

“As a patient- and family-centered hospital, we want to guide parents and caregivers to advocate for the best care and treatment options available for their child,” Merritt said. “To that end, we also provide education for diagnosis and prognosis, and offer specialized pediatric pain management.”

Following the most up-to-date research-based practices, members of the Bridge Program organize interdisciplinary team meetings among a child’s subspecialists and primary care team, and seek spiritual health, mental health and grief counseling for families and patients when needed.

In the rare, difficult times when a child is diagnosed with a terminal condition, care for a patient – and their family – does not stop, Merritt said. The Bridge Program’s palliative services include coordinating seamless care transitions with home health services when a child requires care in the hospital; exploring all treatment options available; grief counseling; and helping families to reach their goals and make meaningful memories.

One of the ways members of the Bridge Program have been helping families create memories together is through a new partnership with the University of South Alabama football team and USA Health Sports Medicine. This spring, patients with complex medical conditions and their families were invited to visit the USA campus during spring practices to meet the players, cheerleaders, mascots, and coaching staff for special behind-the-scenes experiences.

During the events, there were lots of high fives, photos with SouthPaw and Miss Pawla, cheering, football tossing and general fun for the kids, siblings, parents and all of the athletes involved.

“The original goal of this program was to give special-needs families and kiddos the opportunity to enjoy an outing in an environment that is accommodating, comfortable and fun,” said Rene Sprague MSN, FNP-C, who helped establish the Bridge Program and has a child with complex medical needs. “What I loved most was watching the athletes interact with the kids. They looked forward to them coming every week and have already reached out asking how they can spend more time with our patients.”

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