This year Alliance Medical Center will start a new perinatal bereavement program designed to strengthen compassionate communication, assistance and care for parents experiencing the tragedy of perinatal loss. The program, which is being launched by a Healthcare Foundation grant underwritten by Josh and Lindsay Hall, will do this by providing tailored aid and services for parents as well as training and other resources for clinicians.
Perinatal loss, which can include miscarriage as well as stillbirth or the death of an infant within the first year, is a devastating event for parents and family members. It is also a subject our society tends to repress, leaving many unsure how best to support individuals grieving such a loss. This is reflected in our systems of care, which can be lacking in tools and training to address its immediate aftermath.
“As healthcare providers, we do not always feel well-resourced to know how best to support our families through loss and grief,” says Alliance CEO Sue Labbe, explaining the new effort. “Providing our staff with the tools to engage in empathetic communication to our families through these difficult times will support their journey towards healing and resiliency.”
The grant from the Healthcare Foundation underwriting the initiative at Alliance is being made possible by the generous gift and inspiration of Josh and Lindsay Hall, who piloted a similar program in Truckee after the stillbirth of their daughter, Annalise King Hall, in 2014.
“We wanted to do something in her name,” says Lindsay of the origin of the program, which began as a fund at the Tahoe Forest Health System Foundation to support other families going through the same tragedy.
The Halls stress that their own experience at the hospital in Truckee was a very supportive one, and they credit the specific nurse and doctors who attended to them rather than any protocols or procedures that were in place. They created the fund to help ensure such care was the standard for everyone. To further the effort, the Halls shared their story and answered questions in meetings with the medical staff at Tahoe Forest Hospital District’s Joseph Family Center for Women and Newborn Care.
In that spirit of ongoing dialogue and reflection, the Annalise King Hall Fund has led to a range of supports that have directly benefited families and staff ever since. Among these are bereavement training for nurses, a human breastmilk bank for critical situations, comfort kits to families who have experienced a stillbirth or a miscarriage, and advanced perinatal monitoring systems.
When a few years ago the Halls decided to relocate with their two children to Healdsburg, where they have long-standing family ties, they realized they might be able to replicate the program in their northern Sonoma County community. Working with the Healthcare Foundation, they sought a site for the fund that would be most impactful by supporting an under-resourced community, and soon entered into a collaboration with Alliance Medical Center.
As a nonprofit “one-stop” community-wide provider and a particular safety net for Healdsburg and Windsor’s low-income families and individuals, Alliance plays a crucial role in equitable access to healthcare in the region. The new perinatal bereavement program, which will roll out later this year, will be informed by the successes and insights of the Truckee program while adapting to the distinct needs of Alliance’s client population and clinical staff.
The Halls have already met with Sue Labbe and her team to share their experience and the work they’ve supported in Truckee; and the staff at Joseph Family Center has joined in the dialogue, sharing one of the specially designed loss care kits with colleagues at Alliance.
Sue Labbe is now working closely with her OB clinical team to determine the current priorities, but she offers a preliminary list of some essential needs, including bereavement training for staff as well as a reserve for meals, groceries, funeral expenses, and counseling services to support family members through very difficult times.
“As a community health center, we strive to care for the whole patient through each chapter of their lives, including times of loss and grief,” says Sue. “We do so by providing them with a safe space to receive medical and behavioral healthcare and by connecting them with resources needed to improve their health and wellness.”
The program made possible by the Halls’ visionary philanthropy contributes to this end with a funding framework that allows Alliance to direct precious resources where they can be most effective—including to previously unbudgeted but nevertheless pressing needs.
“Alliance is a nonprofit organization, which means our programs run on a very tight budget,” explains Sue. “The ability to develop a new program is dependent on access to the financial resources that allow us to invest in both our staff and the patients we serve.
“Our nurses have not previously received formal training in bereavement support, so this will allow them to grow professionally while also aligning with the needs of the families that come to us for care.”
Adaptation of the program to the needs of local families and staff is a primary goal, and the Halls are pleased with the way Alliance has embraced the idea.
“Everything changes every year; the people change, the nurses change. So every year we assess needs, talk to nurses, maybe do some fundraising according to what needs emerge,” says Josh. “But we let the program evolve again; we let Alliance create the program they need using that framework.”
“It’s based on giving the nurses a voice and figuring out what the need is within that community,” agrees Lindsay. “That allows the program to evolve in a way that is specific to that community.”
The one consistent feature across both the Truckee program and now the one at Alliance is the open, honest dialogue toward compassionate care.
“For us, Annalise, her spirit, is really at the base of it,” says Lindsay. “It’s a way for her to live on and continue to do positive things in the world.”
For more information on how to support this program, please contact Development Director Mary Ott at (707) 395-4928 or email@example.com.
Katziah Bonilla has been named Program Coordinator for Alliance’s Comprehensive Perinatal Services Program. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact her at 707-433-5494 ext 1293 or at KBonilla@alliancemed.org.