“Image of mom holding her baby and talking to a doctor

The Center for Healthy Families (CHF) at UChicago Medicine and Comer Children’s provides follow-up outpatient care for babies who continue to need a higher level of care after leaving the NICU. The center helps families manage babies’ medical needs with primary care and neurodevelopmental follow-up care all under the oversight of a neonatologist.

Families who’ve had a child in the NICU face a unique set of stressors and medical challenges, so it’s no surprise they may need extra support as they navigate the transition home.

In these cases, overwhelmed new parents may have to:

  • Coordinate with multiple specialists.
  • Manage medical equipment at home.
  • Bring their child back for additional monitoring or treatment.

This is all while making sure their infant is hitting a set of developmental milestones that may be different from other babies.

Learn more about Center for Healthy Families medical director, Dr. Andrews

Leaders in Research

The Center for Healthy Families leads research in key areas that support optimal health and development of the NICU graduate. Our current research focuses on:

  • Finding the best ways to support families using the Preeme+You mobile application.
  • Examining the microbiome to inform our care strategies to foster optimal neurodevelopment via the Science of Early Trajectories Center.
  • Investigating practical ways for patients to receive early developmental support in the home in partnership with Project Initiate.

Bringing a Neonatology Perspective

Of around 800 NICU admissions each year, between 100 to 150 of the most complex cases end up being referred to CHF for ongoing care.

The center typically has a case load of around 500 children at a time, following patients until they no longer need a higher level of care, or until around age five when they can access developmental services through the school system.

The expertise of a neonatologist is one thing that sets CHF apart.

A general pediatrician may be unsure of what to do with a child who’s on oxygen or a feeding tube or has a specialized medicine they haven’t worked on before. Our neonatologist knows how to tune in to what is happening with the patient and takes a holistic approach, while delving deep into the complexities of their medical care.

Respecting Parents' Expertise

The Center for Healthy Families takes a family-centered approach to care that respects the significant time parents have already invested in seeing their child through their medical challenges.

The CHF will work with the family to help them with the transition from the regimented care of the NICU to the new challenge of caring for the baby at home. Our team also makes sure the family understands the baby’s unique care needs, including:

  • Any subspecialists involved.
  • Any medications and equipment.
  • The plan for regular welfare visits and immunizations.
  • Developmental assessments and services.

If a patient becomes ill, our team will personally call the ER to coordinate care and alert physicians to the patient’s condition and history.

For outcomes, the program has seen only one unexpected death within 30 days of discharge over 15 years. But the team sees the program’s impact in its success stories. In one case of a mother carrying multiples -- a set of identical twins, plus a third, non-twin baby – each with their own medical issues, the Center for Healthy Families was able to work with the parents to make sure each child’s needs were met and that they were reaching key developmental milestones.