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Exploring parents' environmental needs at the time of a child's death in the pediatric intensive care unit

Kathleen L Meert, Sherylyn H Briller, Stephanie Myers Schim, Celia S Thurston
Pediatric Critical Care Medicine 2008, 9 (6): 623-8

OBJECTIVE: Many childhood deaths in the United States occur in intensive care settings. The environmental needs of parents experiencing their child's death in a pediatric intensive care unit must be understood to design facilities that comfort at the time of death and promote healing after loss. The purpose of this study is to explore parents' environmental needs during their child's hospitalization and death in the pediatric intensive care unit.

DESIGN: Descriptive qualitative study.

SETTING: A university-affiliated children's hospital.

PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-three parents of 26 children who died in a pediatric intensive care unit.

INTERVENTIONS: Semistructured, in-depth, videotaped interviews were conducted with parents 2 yrs after their child's death. Interviews were analyzed by an interdisciplinary research team using established qualitative methods.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Environmental themes identified through parent interviews included 1) places remembered, 2) spatial characteristics, 3) services for daily living, 4) parent caregiving, 5) access, and 6) presence of people. Places remembered by parents in most detail included the pediatric intensive care unit patient rooms and waiting room. Spatial characteristics pertaining to these places included the need for privacy, proximity, adequate space, control of sensory stimuli, cleanliness, and safety. Parents needed facilities that enabled self-care such as a place to eat, shower, and sleep. Parents also needed access to their child and opportunities to participate in their child's care. Parents described the physical presence of people, such as those who provide professional and personal support, as another important environmental need.

CONCLUSIONS: The pediatric intensive care unit environment affects parents at the time of their child's death and produces memories that are vivid and long lasting. Positive environmental memories can contribute to comfort during bereavement whereas negative memories can compound an already devastating experience. Parents' perspectives of the pediatric intensive care unit environment can provide insight for adapting existing spaces and designing new facilities.


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