Michelle Peltier spent 15 hours a day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre after her daughter Olive was born preterm at 29 weeks. This experience profoundly impacted Michelle and, soon after Olive was discharged, she created a support group on Facebook for other parents of children born preterm to connect. But this was just the beginning of her work.
It turns out that Michelle’s lived experience and advocacy work made her the perfect fit for the role of NICU Patient and Family Engagement Advisor beginning in 2018. Essentially, the role’s purpose is to improve the health care experiences of NICU families through respectful and collaborative teamwork.
Michelle, a trained doula and Early Childhood Educator, is a champion of the patient voice through daily engagement and in every project she leads. One key initiative that she played a role in was Strengthening Kangaroo Care, which aimed to understand how skin-to-skin contact (“kangaroo care”), which has a myriad of benefits for both mother/parent and child, was practiced in NICUs. Michelle has spoken at public events, including at a press conference announcing the project and the 2018 Healthy Mothers & Healthy Babies Conference, and she continues to advocate for kangaroo care in NICUs across BC.
Colleagues know that Michelle doesn’t shy away from a challenge. She is also leading the NICU sibling support program, where she is working to develop guidelines to provide volunteer childcare support so that parents can care for their baby in NICU while their sibling is looked after. Plus, she led a scent cloth initiative that provides fabric swatches to family members which has been with their infant, and vice versa, supporting olfactory stimulation and providing connection between parents and children. Michelle’s keen attention to both patients and family members improves care for all.
Another way Michelle sustains positive and incremental change in the NICU is through her commitment to accessibility. For example, she provided leadership as NICU Family Education Classes transitioned from in-person to virtual delivery in light of COVID-19. Attendance in these classes increased because of the format change, and more families were able to access the information and support. She has also co-authored and reviewed many patient-facing resources and works with the Health Literacy Librarian to ensure materials are at appropriate reading levels.
Michelle’s role can be summarized as providing peer support to families during a difficult journey in the NICU. But it’s her can-do attitude, combined with her deep passion and commitment to patient engagement, that allows her to transcend her role and to change lives.