New research hopes to show that everyone benefits when parents take on a greater role nurturing their premature babies in the hospital

Jun. 1, 2016

Jill Larocque, Caitlin and Olivia Nicholson, and Khalid Aziz
Jill Larocque and Khalid Aziz with Caitlin Nicholson and her daughter Olivia

Olivia Nicholson was born prematurely. Caitlin, Olivia’s mother, was in and out of the hospital for weeks as little Olivia was cared for by nurses and doctors, around the clock. Preterm babies can be susceptible to jaundice, infections, as well as respiratory, feeding, and behavioural problems. A new research project, funded jointly by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) and Alberta Health Services (AHS) is being spearheaded by Khalid Aziz, MD and Jill Larocque, NNP to help families leave the hospital sooner with healthier preterm babies.

One in twelve babies is born too soon in Alberta. Parents must leave their preterm babies in the hospital to fully develop and become healthy enough to take home. Researchers Aziz and Larocque hope to change that model. They have a plan called Family Integrated Care (FICare).  FICare proposes a new way to integrate the family into the care of their preterm baby. With the guidance of nurses, family members are integrated into the multidisciplinary health care team and provide routine care, such as holding and changing their preterm baby.

The team is hoping to show that babies looked after in this way will be discharged from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in less time, and that the families will be better equipped to look after their preterm infants. “Currently, the length of stay for a preterm baby in a level II NICU is 16 days,” says Aziz, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “We are hoping to reduce that number by at least ten per cent. We want parents to feel both confident and competent in the care of their preterm babies when they go home.”

“Family-integrated care empowers the parents to improve their knowledge, skills and confidence in taking care of a premature infant,” says Larocque.  “Parents are often under stress and afraid to take their babies home because they aren’t involved from the start with the baby’s care. Our study will build that skill and confidence by involving the parents early on with our experienced and well-trained clinicians.” 

“Projects like this one create the necessary research evidence for improving patient care,” says Dr. Kathryn Todd, Alberta Health Services Vice-President Research, Innovation and Analytics. “Investing in health research is ultimately an investment in the health of Albertans. Research and innovation help build and sustain a quality world-class health system.”

“Innovation in health care often comes from research driven by people working within the health system. It is needs-driven and delivers benefits for caregivers, patients, and parents, says Dr. Pamela Valentine, AIHS CEO (Interim). “The research that Khalid Aziz and Jill Larocque are undertaking promises to lead to healthier babies, resulting in happier, healthier families; and, that’s good for all Albertans.”

Back to AIHS e-newsletter, Vol. 2, Iss. 6


Media coverage of the Thomas family’s experience:

Jill and Khalid with Erica and Cory Thomas with their two infants Jacob and Arianna.
CTV News Edmonton:

Bringing preterm babies home faster

CBC News Edmonton:

New research project aims to get premature babies home sooner

Edmonton Journal, June 2, 2016:

New project to help get Alberta pre-term birth babies out of hospital sooner


Khalid Aziz, MD is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. He is also a Neonatologist in the Edmonton Neonatal Program. Khalid is a co-lead for the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) grant from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services.

Jill Larocque, NNP is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner for the Northern Alberta Neonatal Intensive Care Program at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and is a collaborator on the Alberta Wide Family Integrated Care Study.

Amy Fowler is the Project Coordinator for the FICare Alberta study. She has a master’s degree in Global Public Health from Simon Fraser University and has worked on health systems strengthening projects in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Karen Benzies, PhD, RN is a full Professor and Associate Dean of Research (Acting) in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary.  She is also an Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the Cumming School of Medicine, and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. She is a co-lead for the PRIHS grant from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services.

Abhay Lodha, MD, is an Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics; Chair, Continuing Medical Education, Division of Neonatology within the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. Dr. Lodha is a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. He is a co-lead for the PRIHS grant from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services.

Vibhuti Shah, MD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. She is a co-lead on the PRIHS grant from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services.

For more information about the Family Integrated Care study, visit:

The Family Integrated Care study is open until March 2018. It will involve all ten level II NICU sites in Alberta with approximately 600 babies and their parents enrolled. The clinical staff in those locations will provide training to the parents, who will participate in the daily care with constant support of the multidisciplinary health care team. The study’s investigators will then look to see how these babies do over the long term and if these children develop fewer medical complications.  

Alberta has one of the highest rates of pre-term births in Canada with one in twelve women delivering prematurely. The care of preterm infants represents the largest cost in pediatric health care at $35 million a year in the province. The study will look at hospital costs and out-of-pocket costs for parents.

About the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) Fund:

PRIHS was established by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services in 2012 and these projects are the result of the second competition offered under the Fund in 2015.

Each grant is a three year opportunity valued at $750,000.

PRIHS supports networks of health researchers and clinical practitioners across the continuum of care, with an emphasis on population health and community and primary care. The networks assess potentially inefficient activities within the health system and identify sustainable solutions to improve overall quality of care and value for money in the health system.

The PRIHS-funded SCN projects look at technologies, services and processes in the health system that can be improved resulting in better patient outcomes and costs savings. The research evidence from the projects can help AHS make necessary improvements. With a focus on research as a driver of innovation, one of the goals of PRIHS is to create a culture of research expertise and uptake in the health system, which supports AHS’s commitment to quality. PRIHS also encourages collaborations between the SCNs and provincial universities to improve the health system.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

Covenant Health is Canada’s largest Catholic health care organization with over 15,000 physicians, employees and volunteers serving in 12 communities across Alberta. A major provider in Alberta’s integrated health system, Covenant Health works with Alberta Health Services and community partners to positively influence the health of Albertans through a broad range of programs and services.

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and

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