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A new initiative at IU Health is focused on a growing need of patient care – aloneness. During this time of visitor restrictions, a team of caregivers is working to offer additional emotional support.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
She had been hospitalized for nearly a month. During that time she had no face-to-face contact with her friends or family members. She was diagnosed with the coronavirus and was fighting to recover.
Doctors and nurses were doing all they could to help her return to good health. She was one of hundreds of patients – recovering from the devastating virus, and recovering with no family by her side.
She was depressed and not interacting well with nurses and other caregivers. She was receiving nourishment with the help of a feeding tube, she was losing mobility, and she required supplemental oxygen.
In walked Amy Medley, a physical therapist who has worked at IU Health for seven years.
“After spending an hour or so with her for a few days I was able to see her personality return. She began to laugh, joke, smile and even give me a little sass when I offered to brush her hair,” said Medley.
Medley is one of several IU Health outpatient physical and occupational therapists that have found themselves in new roles since the outbreak of COVID-19. They are part of a team called “Making Connections,” focused on providing additional comfort to patients during isolation.
Medical staff quickly recognized that when they enter a patient’s room wearing personal protective equipment, anxiety levels are heightened. That is intensified by the limited personal contact. So the Making Connections team members provide additional patient contact specifically for mental, spiritual, and emotional strength. Working with nurse liaisons, the dozen team members personalize the care to meet the patient’s specific needs.
“These patients are alone for long periods of time, due to our visitor restrictions. As a nurse, mother, and daughter, this is heartbreaking,” said Tracy Davis, a clinical manger at IU Health Methodist Hospital, with a background in pediatric intensive care. A huge part of pediatric recovery involves child life – professionals who help families and patients cope with the challenges of hospitalization.
“I thought we should come up with a ‘big people’ version of this. This was a great way to utilize the highly skilled therapists who had been deployed to the adult academic healthcare when therapy was halted during this pandemic. They have been absolutely fantastic,” said Davis. Physical therapist Lauren Deike helped a patient open and read more than 20 get-well cards that he received during hospitalization.
“During my first week doing this program I heard of a patient who had lost a family member to COVID and he himself tested positive,” said Deike, who has worked with IU Health for eight years. “He had been through a lot in a few days and was understandably upset. I went in and just talked with him for a while. During the time I was in the room with him, his oxygen level increased and his heart rate decreased. Everyday while he was on our unit he looked forward to our visits. He felt like someone was listening and just trying to support him however he needed. His mood and outlook completely changed,” she said.
Therapists have sat with patients talking about their families and helping them connect through FaceTime. They have played cards or worked puzzles with the patients.
The Riley Cheer Guild helped organize an activity cart that is loaded with board games, puzzles, coloring books and other projects to help entertain the patients.
One therapist was working with a patient in a room where the window overlooked the parking garage. She wondered if there was a way to have the patient’s family make signs and stand on the garage floor to provide encouragement for the patient.
“We realized how simple it was and we made it happen,” said Jaimee Haan, executive director of rehabilitation services for IU Health. “As rehab professionals we went into this profession because we are passionate about improving the quality of life of our patients,” she said. Another therapist came up with the idea to laminate face badges of team members, who are covered in personal protective equipment. It gives patients the opportunity to see the faces behind the masks.
“We just keep expanding the efforts. I’ve told the team members ‘don’t assume any idea is a silly idea,’” said Haan, who has been with IU Health for 22 years.
At the end of the day, it’s the patients’ reactions that affirm the team members are doing their best to help with a full recovery.
They have sat with patients during their bleakest times and have held their hand when family members can’t. Physical therapist Priya Gangwani said she will always remember the heartfelt words of one of her patients: “When I asked him if he liked us checking on him he said ‘Your checking on me assures me that I am not forgotten.’”