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Neonatal assessment specialist visits Phoebe

ALBANY, Ga. -- When infants had feeding problems in the past, there were no effective methods of solving the problem.

That is changing.

NOMAS (Neonatal Oral-Motor Assessment Scale) is designed to provide a comprehensive description of an infant's feeding patterns and enables an examiner to identify normal oral-motor patterns during reflexive sucking and to differentiate disorganized from dysfunctional patterns.

Last week, roughly a dozen employees from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, including speech therapists, physical therapists and nurses, were given a certification course on the system.

The idea is to allow those employees to identify sensory aspects of a problem and implement intervention strategies.

"The benefit is to the baby," said Marjorie Palmer, the instructor of the course. "Those taking the course will be able to tell the difference and be able to help them."

The scale is used for pre- and post-test measurements to determine treatment effectiveness, record development progression and change of sucking patterns and to confirm the tongue and jaw characteristics of a dysfunctional suck or the in-coordination of suck/swallow/breathe demonstrated by an infant with a dysfunctional suck.

"It's valuable information," said Katherine Davis, acute speech therapist at Phoebe. "I learned a lot of strategies for treatment I hadn't used before. I'll feel better about my diagnoses. I will be a stronger therapist; I will catch more than I did before and be a better aide to the (neonatal intensive care unit) for it.

"It gives me more of an arsenal."

Nurses are often the first line of defense when a problem presents itself, so that group taking the course allows the health care team to quickly be able to tell when it's time to call in a therapist.

"With the nurses being certified, they will be able to catch these babies," Davis said. "When they see something really wrong, they can call a speech therapist."

The comprehensive certification course taken by the Phoebe employees was conducted over a three-day period.

The scale was developed in 1983 and has since become a reliable tool for the evaluation of neonatal sucking patterns in pre-term and full-term infants. Palmer has been teaching the course for 16 years.