Community Healthcare System’s Neonatal Nurse Educator is 2016 Patient Safety Leadership Award Finalist

MaryPuntillo-01For her contributions to keeping babies safer in their cribs and giving parents peace of mind, Neonatal Nurse Clinician Mary Puntillo, RNC-NIC, RNC-LRN, on staff at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, has been recognized with the Patient Safety Service and Leadership Award. The Indiana Patient Safety Center recognition is awarded to those who have shown exemplary service and gone above and beyond to improve patient safety within his or her hospital, health system, regional patient safety coalition or professional organization.

“I was quite surprised, first to be nominated and second to be in the top five finalists of the Indiana Patient Safety awards,” Puntillo said. “We need to use every opportunity to raise awareness of infant deaths - that are very preventable - in our communities because it takes more than just one person…more than an army…it takes a whole village to change a way of thinking.”

Dedicating her career at Community Hospital in Munster to improving infant safety, Puntillo has been an advocate for perinatal health and safe sleep practices. She acts as a role model for her co-workers and in empowering nursing students to make patient safety a priority. As an active member of the Northwest Indiana Patient Safety Coalition, Puntillo has shared her knowledge and passion with sister hospitals St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart and other hospitals across the Northwest Indiana region.

“Mary has inspired others to make safety a priority through her education and example,” said Kathy Jones, director of Education at Community Hospital. “She touches the lives of parents, grandparents and the unborn through her teaching about the ‘Safe to Sleep’ campaign in the Taking Care of Baby and Grandparents Classes at the hospital. It is wonderful to make a difference, but it is monumental to make a change.”

MaryPuntillo-02Teaching about the ABCs of safe sleeping (place baby to sleep Alone, on his or her Back, in a ‘bare’ Crib), the Safe to Sleep campaign strives to educate parents, caregivers and healthcare providers about ways to reduce risk for Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (or SUIDs) and other sleep-related causes of infant death.

SUIDs, for the most part, are preventable and are a result of unsafe sleep practices. According to First Candle, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the survival of babies through the first years of life and a Safe to Sleep campaign collaborator, there are 4,500 SUIDs per year in the U.S. Eighty to 90 percent of those deaths are from babies sleeping in an unsafe environment that includes being placed in an unsafe sleep position, i.e. on their side or tummy or had loose objects around them such as pillows, blankets or crib bumper pads.

Infant mortality is a serious issue in Indiana and especially in Lake County where the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the state, at 7.7 (per 1,000 live births, 2014), compared with 7.2 for the state overall. The state of Indiana ranks 44 out of 50 states.

With Community Healthcare System hospitals: Community Hospital in Munster; St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart leading Lake County in infant deliveries, the hospitals’ nursery staff have taken a leadership stance through Puntillo’s guidance in keeping babies safe. Working together with the NWI Patient Safety Coalition, to take education and awareness to another level, one by one, families – and other area hospitals - are beginning to follow the new recommended guidelines and turning those statistics around.

“Making a difference in the health of a newborn and their families is her passion,” Jones said. “There is no stronger champion of infant safety and best practices.”

For more information about healthy baby initiatives at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System: Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, visit