Cook Children’s NEST Center Reaches Ten Year Milestone
For the last decade, the clinic has provided crucial care to NICU graduates and their families.
By Charlotte Settle
On November 12th, 2023, the Cook Children’s NICU Early Support and Care Transition (NEST) Developmental Follow-Up Center celebrated its ten-year anniversary.
About the NEST Clinic
NEST provides crucial early intervention for babies born prematurely or with medical conditions who may be at risk for future challenges with hearing, seeing, talking, feeding, motor skills and intellectual development. The clinic reduces the risk of long-term challenges for NICU babies by providing early detection and care coordination through the age of five.
The NEST Clinic’s Medical Director, Yvette Johnson, M.D., M.P.H., came to Cook Children’s in 2013 with the express purpose of establishing the clinic.
“Before NEST, a lot of NICU patients’ care was fragmented,” Dr. Johnson said. “There was no systematic way of evaluating them early on from a developmental standpoint and connecting them to services.”
Comprehensive Care for NICU Graduates and Their Families
The NEST Clinic connects families and patients with sub-specialists like psychologists, dietitians, behavioral health counselors and more to provide a comprehensive neurologic and developmental assessment. The clinic also connects families in need with community resources for housing, food, transportation, and finances.
“We provide holistic care for families because a child’s development doesn’t exist in isolation,” Dr. Johnson said. “We really look at the whole family as our patient.”
By using evidence-based assessment tools to determine kids’ developmental progress, NEST is able to connect them to early interventions. This approach capitalizes on the neuroplasticity of young brains, giving them the best possible chance to reach their fullest potential.
The clinic also provides post-partum depression and post-traumatic stress screenings for mothers and fathers. “We want to address the mental health issues that often exist within families and that are sometimes triggered by the stress and anxiety of the NICU stay,” Dr. Johnson said.
NEST offers direct counseling to families both in the clinic and in the NICU. The clinic also partners with NICU Helping Hands, a peer-to-peer support program that connects families with other parents who have been through a NICU journey.
Continued Growth, Fueled by Compassion
Over the last ten years, the NEST Clinic’s staff has grown from four to 15 members—and this dedicated team is just getting started. The clinic recently received funding to expand its feeding program. It is also in the process of implementing a regional program for early detection of developmental delays and cerebral palsy.
“That will allow us to pick up those kids who are at the highest risk,” Dr. Johnson said. “We’re expanding our reach, participating in quality improvement and raising the standard of care for this high-risk population.”
The NEST Clinic staff walks alongside families for as long as they need with the goal of empowering parents to be advocates for their children.
“We have a very dedicated and compassionate team that goes above and beyond for families as they're transitioning out of the NICU and navigating the complexities of care afterward,” Dr. Johnson said.