As a single working mom and PhD candidate, Leticia Rios, RN, has balanced many 24/7 challenges. She has applied lessons learned as a caretaker, clinician, and educator to her mission, which is to help mothers and babies in underserved communities avoid adverse birth and neonatal outcomes.
Rios took the top honor for Clinical Nursing Excellence from the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council at this year’s Nurse of Excellence Award Ceremony. She was among 23 nominees selected by nurse leaders at hospitals and teaching institutions throughout Long Island.
The council recognized Rios for being an outstanding practitioner, leader, and advocate in the field of maternal and neonatal health equity. It cited her service as the nursing professional development specialist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island, and for being a certified neonatal nurse and an internationally board-certified lactation consultant. Rios has helped to implement practice changes that lead to quality improvements in the NICU, including the achievement of more than 1,000 days without a central line bloodstream infection and zero hospital-acquired pressure injuries to date.
As a co-chair of the Black Mothers Matter Committee, “she passionately advocates for maternal health equity locally, regionally, and globally,” said Valerie T. Terzano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, vice president for nursing and patient care services at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island. Rios was also credited with developing, along with other members of the committee, a Holistic Black Birth Nurse Navigator program, to improve outcomes and experience for Black birthing patients. The successful pilot has been awarded a research grant from the National Institutes of Health. Rios is also a core member of the New York State Birth Equity Improvement Project.
Rios found it difficult to get support to exclusively breastfeed her daughter after giving birth. Knowing that breastfeeding can reduce both maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, the experience prompted her to start a business dedicated to educating and supporting other mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals. She also facilitated a grassroots initiative, Brownsville Baby Café, which provides breastfeeding support for underserved women and addresses any food insecurity and other social issues.
As a young person and daughter of immigrants, Rios says navigating academia was challenging. Despite those barriers, the NYU Langone nurse is currently working on a dissertation for her PhD from Adelphi University. She summed up her passion for being a maternal health advocate with a quote from celebrated neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar: “Injustice on one life is injustice on all lives.”
“It is an honor to be considered among so much nursing excellence,” said Rios after receiving the recognition.