The current bassinets in use at hospitals are used by new mothers, so why aren’t they designed for them?
This was a question a UNC Chapel Hill researcher asked herself, and the answer she came back with set her on a path to founding Couplet Care, which is a semifinalist for one of NC IDEA’s $50K SEED grants.
Dr. Kristin Tully spent years researching birthing parents and their infants and what they need in the transition from pregnancy to postpartum. She was especially focused on discovering how the healthcare system could be more accommodating to these journeys.
“There’s been a striking lack of innovation in maternity care, which is really unfortunate, because it’s such a special time that can be so full of joy,” Tully said. “And it’s inherently challenging as well. So we need to understand moms’ perspectives on what it feels like to go through this.”
Tully studies patient safety, which is not just about preventing medical errors or reducing risks. It’s also about making patients feel safe, cared for and valued, she said.
Traditionally, there’s been a heightened focus on pregnancy and birth in our society, and support and resources toward families dwindle once the baby is born. This leaves a huge gap in resources, Tully said.
Tully has spent her observational research doing interviews and surveys with parents as well as watching them in action in the hospital setting. She wanted to help moms meet their breastfeeding goals.
The new standard of care is for infants to be in the same room as their mothers the whole time they’re in the hospital, a shift away from nursery care. But this standard of care is often not met with many mothers and infants still having nursery bassinets that keep the mother and child physically apart.
Tully said there’s now been research that shows the benefits of being in the same room for mothers and babies connecting and bonding and beginning breastfeeding. The current bassinets in hospital use are not designed to accommodate this. Often, the mother is not able to easily twist her body and pick up her baby comfortably right after birth in the way that current bassinets necessitate.
This is very much a health equity issue, Tully said. The barriers in place that prevent mothers from accessing their babies cause a variety of problems.
Mothers often have to call their healthcare team to help them reach their babies, delaying care for the baby if he or she is crying or needs help.
This also takes nurses away from other patients, creating efficiency issues in the hospital.
Tragedies can even happen due to the current state of bassinets in hospitals, like accidental suffocation if a mother falls asleep holding her baby.
It became apparent: a new bassinet design was needed, and Tully and Couplet Care’s CEO Stacie McEntyre were the ones to do it as mothers who experienced the unmet need themselves.
McEntyre, an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, founded Veritas Collaborative, a specialty hospital system for the treatment of eating disorders.
It was easy for McEntyre to agree to get involved with Couplet Care because of Tully’s amazing research and the exciting strides it is making in improving mom and infant health outcomes, McEntyre said.
“I was intrigued by what Kristin was doing with the passion to improve mother-infant health outcomes,” McEntyre said. “I’m a mother who has experienced the challenges that she’s trying to solve, and I wanted to participate in making an impact in the mother-infant postnatal experience.”
Couplet Care’s advisors also include Don Holzworth, a serial entrepreneur; Jan Davis, another entrepreneur in the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network (as well as a Greppys judge and former Download subject); and Ty Hagler, Principal at Trig Innovation.
In the design process for the bassinet, Couplet Care partnered with NC State’s graduate industrial design course, with some of the students being named co-inventors on the PCT patent.
Despite what Tully calls a systematic disinvestment in women and their health, she said they have persisted in creating the Couplet Care bassinet design because of how much they believe it is needed.
The bassinet has been co-designed with parents, their companions and clinicians over the past few years, Tully said. Couplet Care is now on its third-generation prototype. The first iteration was designed based on a survey with more than 3,000 respondents globally who showed a lot of enthusiasm for the work Couplet Care is doing.
“This may seem like one small thing,” Tully said, “but actually it’s revolutionary.”
The Couplet Care bassinet design itself provides safer and more convenient access for mother to baby. It has labels in English and Spanish and relies on graphics more than words because they don’t want literacy to be a barrier to use. The bassinet has access points so the baby can be positioned over the mom in bed, instead of forcing her to twist over her baby.
McEntyre said the bassinet serves an addressable global market of $240M annually. As they have PCT patents pending in seven countries, Couplet Care has already seen a demand from hospitals where Tully did some of her research. They hope to have their bassinets in North Carolina hospitals by the first half of 2022.
While the last year of coronavirus has made research more difficult, it has also shown how rapidly the healthcare system can adapt if there’s a willingness to change, making the vision of the Couplet Care bassinets in all hospitals in the future seem closer to reality.
“The good thing about the Covid-19 pandemic is that it shows that we have the capacity for significant change to the healthcare system,” Tully said. “I think a lot about innovation as a will to change.”