Nursing professor on mission to save babies, 'one crib at a time'

Dr. Wendi Palermo's Cribs for Kids helps low-income expectant mothers. (Source: NSU)
Dr. Wendi Palermo's Cribs for Kids helps low-income expectant mothers. (Source: NSU)

The following is a story from NSU News Services, written by Leah Jackson:

NATCHITOCHES – Dr. Wendi Palermo's motto: "Saving Babies – one crib at a time."

Palermo, an assistant professor of nursing at Northwestern State's Leesville-Fort Polk campus, initiated a grassroots effort to help families in need care for their most vulnerable members -- their newborns. The Cribs for Kids project helps families in the Leesville area keep their infants safe by educating expectant mothers about infant care and eliminating one of the risks for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, co-sleeping. Palermo has donated about 100 cribs to expectant mothers and follows up with the family until the baby is one year old.

"This program is aimed at families, mothers and caregivers who cannot afford a bed for their baby. No bed for their baby? We're talking bare minimum and they do not have it," she said, describing cases in which the women she counsels arrive by taxi because they don't own a car. "These women chose life for their baby. They are trying to escape societal judgment and I thank them for taking steps to protect their baby. I thank them. Their faces light up. Many moms and future grandmothers have left my office in tears of joy because someone cares for them and their baby."

Palermo said while working as an emergency room nurse early in her career she was shocked by the number of babies brought in dead on arrival and vowed to do what she could to lower the infant mortality rate in Louisiana, which is one of the highest in the nation.

"Many infant deaths occur because of co-sleeping or an unsafe sleeping environment," she said. "I have donated approximately 100 cribs to expecting mothers and we are calling them one year after the baby is due to see if they would rate my program, to determine if they utilized the safe sleep practices and crib I donated during the class and to determine if their baby survived their first year."

Collecting follow-up data on program participants is challenging because many change phone numbers or residences, but Palermo and her colleague Linda Nichols, also an assistant professor of nursing at NSU Leesville-Fort Polk, have tracked 35-40 percent of participants, with positive results.

"So far we have not lost a single baby. All the participants have rated the program extremely high. We are still knee deep in the analysis phase but the numbers are extremely encouraging," Palermo said.

Palermo began her nursing career as a candy striper shadowing her mother, also a nurse, at age 12. She earned an associate degree in nursing at Northwestern State in 1999 and was motivated to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing when she realized how impactful a bachelor's degree would be for her career. She completed her bachelor's in 2002 and, after moving with her husband to Calcasieu Parish, enrolled in the master's program at McNeese State University, completing that degree in 2004. Her graduate research in code bedside procedure led to a change in policy at the hospital where she worked and continued on to earn a Ph.D. in nursing research from Southern University in 2011.

Because of her earlier experiences with infant mortality, Palermo chose to research the variable that affect infant mortality and developed a predictive equation to determine who was the most at risk and if the number of healthcare providers and hospitals make a difference. When she found that access to a higher number of nurses positively affected the SIDS rate, she developed Cribs for Kids.

After completing her Ph.D., Palermo earned Northwestern State's Creighton-Owen Endowed Professorship in Nursing. In addition to funding research, the award allowed her to purchase cribs and other items for expectant mothers. She works with pregnancy and community centers in Leesville and DeRidder to distribute cribs to families in need. Expectant mothers attend a class and receive counseling on baby care and safety and agree to the one-year follow-up.

"I try to make each mom feel special. I ask them about college. I always encourage them to call me. I'm proud that my colleagues at NSU Leesville-Ft. Polk, especially Linda Nichols, Catherine Merchant and Wendy Bartlett, support my efforts to make a positive impact in our community," Palermo said.

"We are very proud of what Dr. Palermo and the Leesville faculty have accomplished," said Dr. Pamela Simmons, head of the Department of Nursing. The mission of the College of Nursing and Allied Health is to 'serve the people of Louisiana and in so doing improve the health of the its citizens' and to assist faculty in 'achieving their professional goals as responsible and contributing members of the nursing profession and of society.' In identifying and addressing a huge safety concern for mothers and their newborn infants, Dr. Palermo has definitely demonstrated what nursing and nursing leaders do best...and she earned her Ph.D. on top of it all. It is certainly, a win-win for the citizens of that parish and for NSU as another faculty member exhibits completion of such a huge scholarly endeavor."

Palermo's efforts were praised recently by Louisiana Future of Nursing, an organization that is part of a coalition to transform healthcare through nursing.

"Serving the community in this capacity gives me the chance to go beyond the immediate need. I encourage young women to think about the future; I ask them what they want to do, and we talk about careers. I even try to recruit some of them into the field of nursing. We want to consider the whole person, the whole situation, and do what we can."

Read more about how Palermo is fulfilling what she believes is her calling at:

For information on Northwestern State's College of Nursing and Allied Health, visit