Meet Sheralee Leonard, one of our social workers at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
What does a typical day look like for you? Being one of the social workers in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on the St. Paul campus, my daily routine includes meeting with parents and extended family members of medically fragile and sick infants. I provide ongoing support while the baby remains hospitalized.
We often talk about ways they are making connections with their infant and how they are feeling about the experience, as attachment can be more difficult with a baby who is in an isolette, connected to wires, and may not be able to be held or tolerate much stimulation. I also listen to the families tell their stories and explore ways for them to cope in a healthy and healing manner.
Assessment for postpartum depression is also crucial in the NICU. Mothers and those they are getting support from are both educated on the risks and symptoms of postpartum, and I check in with mothers regularly on how they are coping.
Families can often have unexpected financial stressors related to needing to be away from work so they can be here at the hospital. I help families to connect with various community programs that may be able to assist them in getting baby items, or help with a rent or mortgage payment.
Considering no one day is like the other in the NICU, there are many other aspects to my job. Child protection reports are made when a baby tests positive for a reportable drug. Behavior contracts are made and discussed with family members when unsafe behavior occurs in the hospital. This is in collaboration with security and our NICU nurse manager. I also provide grief support to families, related to their hopes and dreams for their baby which may be altered because of a medical diagnosis affecting their child’s long term functioning. I also support families when their baby dies.
And not to underestimate the value of team, I am collaborating and communicating with the various members of the healthcare team in the NICU. We work closely together on ways to help support these families. Without the many caring and dedicated staff in the NICU, families would not be able to get the family-centered care and respect that is seen in the NICU.
What drew you to Children’s? My first experience working in a hospital was at United Hospital as a weekend/on-call social worker. At that time, United Hospital provided on-call and weekend coverage to Children’s as well. I soon discovered how much I loved the work at Children’s, and whenever a referral came up at Children’s, I offered to take it. The connections with families, the diversity of the types of work I could do, and the collaborative relationship between the different disciplines in the hospital all drew me to Children’s. Soon I was able to work there full time, and I haven’t left.
What do you enjoy most about working here? I truly feel honored to be allowed to accompany and offer emotional support to families going through a difficult experience related to their baby’s health. The compassion I have seen from families, and the extent of caring from members of the NICU healthcare team, has touched my heart and soul.
What do you think makes kids great? Children are amazing! They are so intuitive and honest in their perceptions. Children possess such strength, and given a nurturing environment can flourish and get through some very stressful and difficult situations. I have been very impressed by the children and families I have worked with here at the hospital, learning more about the aspects of hope, healing and the desire for a better life.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? When I was younger I traveled to Europe. I think it would be great to return. It would be fun to be among the beauty of the mountains in Switzerland, enjoy the city life in Paris, and be able to get on a train and travel to new places.
Do you have a recommendation for a Children’s employee who should be featured on Five Question Friday? Send your suggestions to Brady at Brady.Gervais@ChildrensMN.org.