NeonaTEL: A call centre for parental support during the COVID-19 pandemic, established by the Romanian parent organisation Unu si Unu

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic parents are in need of special support. They have questions which should be answered on daily basis. EFCNIs partner parent organisation Unu si Unu established a call center to stay in touch with parents and parents-to-be and to help them to stay healthy and close to their children in the time of COVID-19. Corina Croitoru from Asociația Unu si Unu in Romania explained how the Call Center works and what is needed to set it up.

Mrs. Croitoru, exchanging knowledge and sharing experiences are always important but even more so in times of COVID-19. What do you offer to support your parent network in terms of exchange and support in your country?

© Corina Croitoru

After many discussions, at the beginning of the pandemic, with many target groups like neonatologists, heads of departments, Romanians NICUs, we realised that it is important to understand the needs of parents of newborn babies, to stay close to them and to talk about challenges before, during and after birth. The idea of creating a call centre was born.

It was the only way to be close to pregnant women at known risk of giving birth prematurely, to mothers who were hospitalised with their long-term hospitalised baby (but far away from the support of their family, of their partner and with still limited access to the child), but also to discharged mothers with a child at the NICU (who has no access at all to the hospital until the child will be discharged). COVID-19 changed everything: Until now it seemed difficult to deal with the fact that we are separated from the baby by the transparent wall of the incubator. With the pandemic we face now the sad situation, that the parents are separated from the baby by many walls and barriers.

Our call centre, NeonaTEL, is open on 7 days per week, the neonatologists are available from Monday to Friday between 8:00 am and 11:00 am, and the psychologists / psychotherapists and veteran parents from Monday to Sunday, between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. To benefit from the services, parents or pregnant women can call the number 021.9980 (with a normal tariff, callable from any fixed or mobile telephone running by a network in Romania).

What did it take to practically manage your service?

Asociatia Unu si Unu successfully implemented a call centre in the past, which was active from 2014 till 2016. We thank once again SOS Prema (France) for the training they did with us in 2014, and for sharing their experiences on setting up a call centre with us. The past experience gain out of that, negative and positive, helped us to be productive in the present.

We managed to set up the NeonaTEL call centre in four weeks, two for the technical part and two for the communication part.

Here are the steps we followed:

    • Getting hold of a sponsor. We were supported by a nutrition company.
    • Signing a contract with the IT provider to be able to realize and implement the technical part in the call centre.
    • To find a short, easy to remember phone number, which is now 9980. The deeper meaning behind: We choose these numbers because a pregnancy lasts between 0-9 months, and prematurity occurs in pregnancies <8 months (in Romania, many women still calculate in months, and not in weeks of gestation).
    • Establishing a work schedule, which suits the needs of parents. We decided to have a working structure from Monday to Sunday, 8.00 am till 8:00 pm, except for public holidays
    • To find a team of professionals and volunteering parents which would be able to answer the phone. We build on previous partnerships to form a big team: 1 neonatologist, 1 veteran parent and 12 psychologists/psychotherapists. We trained the team to be sensitive to challenges of parents affected by prematurity (some team members didn’t have experiences in dealing with parents of preterm born babies). Furthermore, we taught COVID-19 relevant facts. We signed contracts with every Volunteer.
    • The communication team worked hard to finalise a toolkit which include a promotional poster, an audio and video spot (We used old filmed material in NICU, and we have parental agreement for children who are shown in the spot), a press release and the media partnerships. Communications activities should be done consistently throughout the project not only at launch. We tried to motivate people to raise awareness for the project. We called all 60 level II and III maternities in Romania to encourage them to promote the project in front of parents and to hang out our posters in the NICU.
    • The last thing we did, was to create a support group for the involved professionals to share the cases, to support themselves, and to maintain a vivid motivation within their voluntary involvement in this project.

Asociatia Unu si Unu wants to run this call centre for 6 months, but we will act and react according to the current situation and needs. If the pandemic relevant restrictions relating to parents will continue, we will offer our services longer.

What should be taken into account by establishing a service as you did?

It is very important before starting a call centre, that you make sure you have the ability to promote it among your parent community. It is good to have a planned budget for the production of plasticised posters (in Hospitals they clean them regularly) and for their distribution by a courier Asociatia Unu si Unu was supported by a nutrition company. A promotion should take place on several channels: on Youtube (we use Google Ad Grant), on Facebook (paid campaign), press release sent out to medical societies and parent groups. We also focused on the transmission of the promotion spot via national radio and TV stations (in Romania, during the state of emergency, NGOs working on projects combating COVID-19, received promotion for free).

What would you recommend other parent organisations in times of COVID-19?

It is important not only to support the families, but also to listen to the concerns of doctors and nurses, be empathetic, ask what their needs are. In crisis situations, such as those of a pandemic, I believe that we, the NGOs, must support the hospitals in their needs, and not only to insist on the projects and changes we want.

Can you share a positive story around the COVID-19 situation? Is there more communication, more close contact?

After we offered this communication tool to parents, the medical staff really appreciated our help and acted responsive and supportive. By talking about the project, we had the opportunity to get closer to the medical staff, to connect on a human level, beyond the professional one.

We told the medical staff a story about a father who called the call centre. His wife was in the hospital since three weeks and he was not able to understand why and what the diagnosis was, and when the child would be discharged. The mother cried every time they talked on the phone, and he couldn’t reach any of the medical experts. After hearing this story, the doctors understood how important it is to communicate with both parents, simultaneously (even if the mother is in the hospital and the father present only by phone). It is important to see the family as a whole, to help both of them to overcome the difficult moments of this period of life. The hospitals started to send pictures and information about their children to the parents regularly.

Corina Croitoru
President and Founding Member of Asociatia Unu si Unu