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IHA Honors Munster Community Hospital's Puntillo for Safe Sleep Efforts


Nurse clinician Mary Puntillo of Community Hospital, Munster, has been selected as a co-recipient of the 2018 Douglas J. Leonard Indiana Caregiver of the Year award. The Indiana Hospital Association (IHA) award honors an individual whose performance in the delivery of care is considered exemplary by patients and peers.

The award was presented to Puntillo during the IHA’s Annual Banquet & Awards Ceremony Sept. 26 in Indianapolis. Puntillo was recognized for her vigilant efforts to keep babies safe in their cribs and spread the message of safe sleep practices across the state.

“As a neonatal clinician, Mary has been a passionate advocate for improving infant safety for countless mothers and babies in the Community Healthcare System as well as in the community,” said Jean Gardner, director of Education Services, who submitted the nomination. “Mary has led the ‘Back to Bed’ and ‘Safe Sleep’ campaigns throughout our organization and through community outreach. She is persistent in ensuring we demonstrate safe sleep in the hospital setting as a model for caregivers at home. In Northwest Indiana sleep related deaths continue to be a major cause of death after the first month of age in infants so the need is crucial.”

Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths or SUIDs, for the most part, are preventable and are a result of unsafe sleep practices. Lake County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state. In 2017, the average was 8.5 (per live 1,000 births), compared with 7.2 for the state overall. That rate increases to 12.8 for African-American infants, according to a National Vital Statistics Report.

Safe sleep practices, as guided by Puntillo, are taught to new mothers in the nurseries of Community Hospital, St. Catherine Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center. Nurses in the Family Birthing Centers are committed to spreading the A, B, C message that babies should sleep Alone, on their Backs in an empty Crib. The hospitals provide HALO® SleepSacks™ to take home (which is a onesie sleeper for infants born in the nurseries) along with education on safe sleep practices.

“While patient care begins at our hospitals, sometimes that care needs to reach beyond our campuses for the good of the entire community,” said CEO Lou Molina. “We’re proud that our nurses, led by Mary, have made the decision to spread the word about proper sleep environments and take a leading role in preventing these tragic deaths of babies.”

To reinforce this initiative in the community, Puntillo also teaches the Taking Care of Baby and Grandparents classes that include best practices and new approaches to safe infant care. By taking education and awareness to another level, one by one, families – and other area hospitals - are beginning to follow the new recommended guidelines.

Puntillo has also championed the “Safe to Sleep” message before the Northwest Indiana Patient Safety Coalition (NWIPSC). The coalition is made up of healthcare leaders from Northwest Indiana facilities who work toward health and safety issues across the age span. Numerous hospitals and clinics are represented, along with two university nursing programs.

As a member of the IHA NWIPSC, she chaired efforts of the regional committee to obtain certification in the Cribs for Kids program. All hospitals systems in Lake County collaborated and were successful in achieving either the Gold or the Silver certification. This certification recognizes hospitals that demonstrate a commitment to community leadership for best practices in infant sleep safety and eliminating as many sleep-related deaths as possible.

“We are so very proud of Mary,” said Ronda McKay, vice president Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer, Community Hospital. “She embodies the healthcare system’s mission of enhancing the quality of life in Northwest Indiana as well as the overall health of all babies. She is inspiring through her dedication to make a difference.”

For more information about healthy baby initiatives at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, visit comhs.org/baby.

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