Ruth Downing has been helping women through labor and delivering babies for over four decades.

A Clinical Nurse, Ruth has been working in the Labor and Delivery Unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital since 1991.

Today as a charge nurse, Ruth is responsible for coordinating the care of all patients on the High Risk Labor and Delivery Unit, coordinating Operating Room cases, ensuring patient safety and acting as a resource for staff.

In this major metropolitan hospital that serves a wide range of patients with diverse socioeconomic, educational, ethnic and religious backgrounds. She provides all of her patients with the same level of expertise, compassion and commitment.

Some of her clinical skills include starting IV’s, interpreting fetal monitor tracings, coaching woman in labor and assessing and resuscitating newborns.

Besides her expertise in helping women deliver healthy babies, Ruth has demonstrated a passion for helping women and their families facing perinatal loss, whether by miscarriage, extreme prematurity, stillbirth or expected neonatal death.

There are approximately 70 perinatal losses that occur in Ruth’s Labor and Delivery department every year. All of the nursing staff must have competence in caring for women and their families who are facing the loss of their pregnancy or baby.

But even for trained professionals, the work is challenging, and particularly sensitive when families find out prenatally that their baby has a life-limiting condition.

The Neonatal Comfort Care Program at New York Presbyterian was created to help families who wish to continue a pregnancy despite a life-limiting diagnosis in their baby.

These families meet with the Comfort Care Team to create a birth plan. This plan is communicated to Ruth who then communicates it to the nursing staff. Since Ruth has always prided herself as someone who is drawn to the care of women experiencing a perinatal loss, and because of that passion, she has become a partner to the Neonatal Comfort Care Program.

“Women suffering the loss of a pregnancy or baby are shocked, frightened, and sad,” Ruth said. “They need guidance from experienced staff to help with their immediate needs but they will also need ongoing support as they work through the grief process.”

Recognizing these needs, Ruth asked members of the Comfort Care Team to provide in-services to the Labor and Delivery nursing staff so that they would increase their knowledge and decrease their anxiety about caring for these families.

“These situations require a multidisciplinary team,” Ruth said. “No single discipline can do all that is needed in caring for women and their families facing a loss.”

Ruth organizes training sessions which include a nurse, social worker, child life specialist and chaplain who explain their role in perinatal loss support and teach nurses what they can do at the bedside, and who to call as a resource for themselves and the families.

Speakers present at different times and on different days to provide information to the greatest number of staff.

Ruth’s contributions to Dr. Elvira Parravicini, MD’s Neonatal Comfort Care Program supports Dr. Parravicini’s passion for helping the most fragile patients in the neonatal. This breakthrough program for infants affected by life-limiting or terminal conditions addresses the complex medical and non-medical needs of infants and their families. Through the program a multidisciplinary team, including RNs, work together to establish a state of comfort for babies in a compassionate, loving environment.

Ruth’s staff looks to her for mentoring and guidance when caring for women and their families during their very difficult experience.

Because of Ruth’s advocacy, mothers who deliver by C-section recover privately in a labor-delivery and recovery room so that the family can be with her and she can be with her baby while being closely monitored.

Over the years, Ruth’s efforts have helped to create a cultural change in how these families are cared for and have heightened the sensitivity of medical and nursing staff to the needs of families facing a loss.

Ruth also works with her manager and director to secure equipment including a camera, printer, and a wheeled cart to store them in. Ruth also places memory boxes, clothing and blankets in the cart that are given to families to help honor and remember their babies.

Ruth continues to research creative ways to help families, and a few years ago came upon an organization called Project Bear which donates small stuffed bears to the hospital that can be given to the family so that they have something to go home with, something they can hold and cuddle.

Ruth’s expertise, compassion and passion for her work epitomizes what the profession of nursing stands for: work that connects us as human beings, that strives to decrease suffering and endeavors to have us walk with our patients in tragedy and triumph.

What a privilege it is to honor and celebrate Ruth’s work, and the innovation being done at New York Presbyterian Hospital at our Nurses With Global Impact 2018 event at the United Nations May 11.

Nurses like Ruth make an extraordinary difference in the lives of babies, their mothers and fathers, their families and friends – while also inspiring their colleagues to engage fully in the process of healing, regardless how tragic the circumstances are.

I have been moved so deeply by Ruth’s work and this program and am humbled to be able to share this story and to support the work Ruth and her colleagues and supporters are doing, which will continue to inspire programs in other hospitals around the world.

– Deb