1. Walker, Heather R. PhD
  2. Clarkson, Gina PhD
  3. Alston, Hailey BA, RN, DNP
  4. Chan, Belinda MD


Background: COVID-19-associated visitor restrictions altered parents' involvement in their infant's care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).


Purpose: The purpose of this article is to explore how restrictions affected parents' perceptions of experience in the NICU and to build a conceptual model of communication flow during times of crisis.


Methods: This qualitative study was set in a level III 52-bed NICU. Using data from an open-ended survey question, a multitiered thematic analysis was used.


Results: Four broad themes emerged: communication, gratitude, release, and containment of emotionality. These 4 themes interacted codependently and manifested differently as COVID-related visitor policies were put in place. Parents' characterization of communication also varied depending on the visitation policies. Before COVID, parents were more likely to reflect on communication. During COVID, parents expressed more gratitude, while containing negative emotions-sometimes using gratitude to soften the blow of bad feedback.


Implications for Practice and Research: Our theoretical model suggests that gratitude may serve as a form of "reciprocal care" to providers during a period of crisis and extreme stress. Use of high-quality communication between providers and parents in the NICU is necessary to understand parental concerns or negative experience.