Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) is a regional referral facility for neonatal intensive care that serves the entire Fraser Health region – from Burnaby to Boston Bar. Typically, 800 premature babies are cared for on an annual basis. Since 1997, the Canadian Neonatal Network has recognized RCH’s Variety NICU as consistently ranking among the top in the country for achieving excellent survival rates for babies who are born before their due date and very low rates of complications related to prematurity. Of course, premature babies require comprehensive care, especially in their early weeks of life. In 2019, a music therapy program was initiated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) with the support of Music Heals Charitable Foundation. This added another important tool to support their growth, development and healing – while helping to establish bonds with their caregivers. Twice a week, music therapist Katherine Deane provides one-to-one sessions with premature infants and their caregivers in our NICU. While these babies are medically stable, they can be as young as 28 weeks gestational age.
Depending on the nature of the care required, premature infants and their caregivers may be transferred to RCH from other parts of the province. Overall, the population served by RCH is one of the more diverse in the country, with 41% visible minorities, and 34.9% newcomers to Canada.
How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of clients at Royal Columbian?
- Helps reduce distress behaviours among premature infants by increasing self-regulation and increasing oxygenation saturation
- Slowly rouse babies from sleep in preparation for feeding
- Creates a sense of calm during painful procedures
- Significant benefit for both premature infants and their caregivers:
“The most common feedback we receive from caregivers in the NICU is how music therapy strengthens their bond with their baby. Often, parents share that they ‘don’t sing’, but they are inspired to join Katherine when they witness the many benefits for their baby. Many parents have shared that music therapy helps to create a calm and tranquil environment – not just for the babies, but for the caregivers as well. One parent stated “what a lovely way to show my love in a very sweet and personal way.” This has been particularly important as caregivers face the added complexities of caring for a premature infant during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
How has COVID-19 impacted the program?
Extra PPE precautions have been put in place. In addition to one-to-one sessions with premature infants and their families, Katherine also introduced a zoom session to introduce caregivers to the benefits of music therapy for their children
From June 2019 to April 2020, over 600 music therapy sessions were provided for 213 pre-term infants and their families at Royal Columbia NICU until the end of March, 2022. Adopting this program would mean the continuation of one-to-one music therapy sessions as well as Zoom sessions after the children return home with their caregivers.