No part of this has been easy. Whether you’re on the front lines, at home, “essential” or otherwise, we’re all struggling in our own ways. As adults, we have the luxury of being able to express how COVID-19 has impacted us- physically, mentally, and emotionally. Children are living this, too. Talk about a struggle that we never had: “Welcome to childhood-- it’s confusing, it takes years to learn to emote, and now let’s add a Pandemic.” And then there are children currently in hospitals. Those not previously required to be in protective isolation are now isolated. Some have been uprooted to make room for adult overflow. Social programs have stopped. Knowing the impact of emotional well-being on health, we want to help these kids cope during their hospital stay. How do we rally to bring them the “magic” that we so desperately want to remain part of their childhood?
Honestly, you might already be doing it. Here’s what we’ve seen:
1. You are openly communicating.
In a chaotic, rapidly evolving environment, children may have difficulty comprehending a situation. They may not understand the importance of protective measures (handwashing, isolation) and may have difficulty describing symptoms and feelings. St. Jude Children’s Hospital now offers a free coloring book to help children better understand COVID-19. Many hospital workers are placing their pictures over their PPE for more human connections with patients. Additionally, care providers are explaining the ever-changing situation openly, creatively, and kindly, which can dramatically improve a child’s experience.
2. You are embracing technology.
With current isolation procedures, many children have lost access to playrooms, shared toys and freedom to move around the floor. Some hospitals such as Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford are using electronic greetings to provide that sense of connection. J.J. Bouchard at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shared several inspiring ways his patient technology team is creating a positive patient experience. Using YouTube, they are giving patients (and children at home missing their “hospital family”) that sense of connection. Illustrating the increasingly important role of patient technology specialists (many sponsored by Child’s Play Charity), another member of Bouchard’s team has been using his expertise to help optimize/implement telehealth operations.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital also implemented telehealth at an amazingly rapid rate, transitioning to 6000 virtual visits in a single week. Smart devices are also being used to help children stay connected to loved ones and engage, and Bouchard’s team has been diligently working to find appropriate gaming recommendations. Children’s hospitals have begun to implement in-room digital scavenger hunts to help children self-entertain and get themselves moving within their room*. Clearly, this has become the time to harness technology, and hospitals across the country are doing just that.
3. You are being resourceful.
We’ve interviewed several experts at children’s hospitals, and the amount of creativity, resourcefulness, and determination to build a positive patient experience is truly awe-inspiring. Donor support has been harnessed to bring in programming and resources. Though many hospitals are in spending freezes, departments and healthcare providers are reaching out to foundations and grants outside of their institutions for help. Children, caregivers, and providers are also championing this by communicating their concerns and needs, and they are sharing this information not only with one another, but with others at hospitals across the country. In short, care teams are doing what they can to provide for their team and for their patients.
To all working to bring “magic” into hospitals at this time, thank you. This isn’t easy, but we must do what we can to support children during this difficult time. After all, to care is human, right?
*Disclosure—Product of SpellBound
Tammy Barnes is a scientist with a passion for finding creative solutions to help people. After pursuing her Ph.D. in physiology at Vanderbilt University and completing post-doctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of Michigan, she traded in her lab coat to work with SpellBound to provide a new level of patient experience and care to children’s hospitals.
Jenny Choi is a current medical student at the University of San Diego, California and Cancer Biology PhD student at the University of Michigan dedicated to pediatric healthcare. Her experiences growing up with a younger brother with autism/special needs and working in pediatric clinical trials motivated her to join SpellBound to lead their research efforts.