The key members of the Baby-Friendly team at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County in Brooklyn, NY, remember with fondness the moment they heard the news that their facility had finally achieved Baby-Friendly designation in August 2022.
“I was so excited when I got the call from BFUSA,” says Chantal Turnier, CLC, Kings County’s Breastfeeding Facilitator. “Ms. Wallace, who sits across from me, heard me scream and she immediately ran out of the room.”
“Ms. Wallace” is Pauline Wallace, RN, CLC, one of the hospital’s lactation consultants.
“I was nervous every time the phone rang in our office and Chantal said it was Baby-Friendly calling,” says Wallace. “This time, I saw her dancing, so I knew it was good news. I ran to Ms. Appiah and the whole office erupted. We were so happy. Oh, my God!”
“Ms. Appiah” is Vera Appiah-Agyemang, RN, MSN, CNM, Director of Nursing for Maternal Child Health at Kings.
“I called my Chief Nursing Officer and I was screaming on the phone, ‘We got it! We got it!’” says Appiah-Agyemang. “I didn’t have doubt that we could do it. It was just when was the issue.”
The team was excited for this milestone achievement in their own Baby-Friendly journey, which had begun six years earlier; but they were also excited because, as the last hospital in the NYC Health + Hospitals system to be designated Baby Friendly, Kings County’s accomplishment marked the culmination of a decade-long journey for the entire system to become Baby-Friendly.
This is significant because NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the nation. It serves more than a million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient care locations, all supported by 11 acute care hospitals, each of which is now Baby-Friendly designated:
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, Manhattan (designated 2008)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens , Queens (designated 2014)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, Bronx (designated 2015)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, Manhattan (designated 2016)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi, Bronx (designated 2016)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx, Bronx (designated 2016)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan, Manhattan (designated 2017)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull, Brooklyn (designated 2017)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island, Brooklyn (designated 2018)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst , Queens (designated 2019)
- NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, Brooklyn (designated 2022)
“The whole team wanted to do it because they kept saying we’re the only facility left,” recalls Appiah-Agyemang.
“But it was also important to us because of the population we serve,” she says. “Our patients have high risk for mortalities and our babies have high rates of asthma and ear infection. So, it was very important for us to do this for our community. We tell our patients that we cannot decrease the pollution in Brooklyn, but you can take steps to help the health of your child. It makes them feel empowered.”
That attitude appears to be paying off, as the hospital has recently seen a significant increase in its exclusive breastfeeding rates:
Meanwhile, in Harlem…
In contrast, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem has been Baby-Friendly for fourteen years, as it was the first hospital in the system to be designated in 2008. The hospital’s Baby-Friendly practices are now fully ingrained in its culture and community.
“Harlem is such a diverse community,” says Gina McManus, RN-MSN, HCDL, CPN, CLC, Director of Nursing for Maternal Child Health at Harlem. “Our patients want to breastfeed and the evidence shows that it’s best for our babies and our moms. Whatever our community needs, we support it.”
Now, Harlem is the only facility in New York to be re-designated by BFUSA twice (in 2013 and 2018).
“I believe it’s a long-term, continuing mission that we’re always going to have,” says Trisha Talaboc, RN, BSN, CLC, Harlem Hospital’s Assistant Director, who oversees lactation. “At the end of the day, something as precious as breastfeeding not only benefits the mom and the baby, but the rest of the community as well. This whole mindset can really transform the entire community.”
“I want Harlem Hospital to be a beacon for this community,” she says.
According to McManus, one of the biggest challenges that comes with their long-standing designation status has been staff education.
“It’s part of our culture,” she says. “But staff come and go. And of course, there are always changes in the evidence. So, we’ve had to continuously educate our staff and be proactive with sharing the latest evidence as well.”
Worth the Wait
For Wendy Wilcox, MD, NYC Health + Hospitals’ inaugural Chief Women’s Health Officer, the achievement of Baby-Friendly designation across all eleven facilities is the culmination of a personal journey as well, as she was the Chair of the OBGYN department at Kings County when they began their pursuit of designation in 2016.
“Everyone was so excited,” says Dr. Wilcox. “It was not an easy endeavor. Our designation journey included a pandemic and the upheaval of transitioning to Epic, our new electronic health record system. There were many points along the way that may have stretched this out longer than we would have liked. When I found out about Kings County and knowing all the hard work everyone has done, it was well worth the wait.”
“We are so thrilled that our entire system now carries the Baby-Friendly designation,” she says.
BFUSA extends its hearty congratulations to everyone in the NYC Health + Hospitals system for a job well done!