NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – The loss of their daughter, Charlotte, to a stillborn death prompted parents Carol McMurrich and Greg Reynolds to start the Empty Arms Support Group for others who have experienced infant loss, miscarriage, stillborn or infant death. That was nearly five years ago.
On May 25, 2011, the program they founded with support from Cooley Dickinson Hospital Childbirth Center Registered Nurses was awarded the New England Association Directors of Healthcare Volunteer Services (NEADHVS) President’s Award.
The Empty Arms Support Group, which won in the Community Outreach and Collaboration category, provides an innovative, supportive service to families at a time of loss. The support group, run by volunteers McMurrich and Reynolds in partnership with the CDH Childbirth Center’s MaryAnna Foster, RN, has increased Childbirth Center patient satisfaction, helped to change hospital procedures, provided training for staff at CDH and in the community and has expanded to offer a program for parents who have had a loss and are evaluating the idea of welcoming another child into their family, either through pregnancy or adoption.
McMurrich says it is the most wonderful honor to receive the award. “Running (the) Empty Arms (support group) has been an incredibly satisfying way for me to mother the daughter who is no longer with me, and to have this recognition added to the satisfaction of having helped so many families who have sadly joined me in this tragic journey is truly an honor.”
Robin Kline, CAVS, director of Volunteer Services, nominated the Empty Arms Support Group for the NEADHVS award and says the program fills a tremendous need in the community. “Infant loss is much overlooked in most hospitals. Although some hospitals run support groups, they only offer support at the time of the group meeting. As a result, there are parents who have needs and no one to talk with who understands what they are going through.”
Empty Arms offers monthly group meetings, held 2 hours in the evening. In addition, participants are linked with other members who can support them and then these participants become part of a network where there is always someone available to talk to when needed. Referrals to local therapists who have experience with infant death are also available. The program has continued to grow and offers solid support for infant loss. In 2010, Empty Arms served 60 people.
In 2007, McMurrich affiliated the local CDH-based Empty Arms Support Group with Share, a national organization for pregnancy and infant loss support.
Kline’s professional organization, NEADHVS, is affiliated with the American Hospital Association. Of the Empty Arms Support Group receipt of the award, she says “this is the highest award in New England for volunteer programs in healthcare.”
For more information visit www.emptyarmswesternma.blogspot.com.