YON 2020 Day 264: Dalia Zemaityte, RN

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

The following story of Dalia Zemaityte, RN, was originally featured in "For the Children," a book published by University Hospitals for the 120th anniversary of Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. It is reprinted here with permission from Zemaityte and Patricia DePompei, RN, MSN, president, UH MacDonald Women’s and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospitals. The story appears on page 105 of "For the Children."


Dalia Zemaityte came to B&C as assistant supervisor of nursing in 1960, expecting to stay for only a year. In fact, she has remained at the hospital ever since, and is often called its "soul" or "heart," its leading ambassador and the children's and families best friend.

Throughout the years, she has had a unique ability to focus on additional factors that promote the best interests of children and families, as well as on the immediate healthcare issues. For instance, at the time of her arrival, the hospital had a "Play Lady" to help make the children's hospital stays happier, by providing crafts, stories and other activities. Miss Zemaityte, along with John Kennell, became a strong advocate and supporter of this modest program, helping to lay the groundwork for what has become one of the most valued and essential elements in the care of children at the hospital, the Child Life program.

She was also interested in family-centered care from the very outset, with ideas well ahead of those in practice at almost all other children's hospitals, so that many traditionalists thought her unconventional or even radical. In a re cent interview, she recalled the situation regarding parent visits when she started in 1960 (which was itself a great advance over the rules in effect fifteen years previously):

"It was basically 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the parents, and the restrictions for isolation meant parent visiting was strictly controlled. And of course there was no overnight stay, absolutely not. At 8 o'clock the bell rang, and the parents left. But I remember the first parent that stayed overnight. This was a mother whose child was very ill, and she said she was not leaving and was not going to take up much space, so I said, 'Okay.' She brought her sleeping bag and slept under the crib! And then I guess little by little, with the whole idea of family-centered care, we realized how important parents are and how they can participate in care, so we be came much more liberal. So to me, the main concept and belief in family-centered care was that parents must be considered an integral part of care as partners and decision makers.... Now, of course, it's much more convenient with our new buildings.

"When I think about it, actually the most difficult part, the biggest barrier to having family-centered care in Rain bow Babies and Children's Hospital, was nurses and physicians saying, 'What do you mean? The parents are going to be here all the time, underfoot, asking all those questions'- I said, 'That's what it's all about'—'and then participating in the care,'...and I said,... Why can't parents feed and dress the baby like they do at home? It's not different.'... Staff[eventually realized we can only supplement parents, we can not substitute, and how important it is to have them as our partners....

"I think mostly it was education and also staff realizing that parents were partnering with them in [terms of] quality of care....It took a while, and now, I can't believe it-people just take it for granted....We were among the first in the country to do all this, if not the first." 

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