Specialists from the Child and Family Life team at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital hosted a webinar Thursday afternoon to discuss projects and programs to help child patients cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Luanne Thomas Ewald, chief operating officer at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, led the webinar.

The Child and Family Life program works with medical professionals at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospitals to support children’s development and provide cultural and mental health resources for patients and their families. 

LSA junior Grace Seymour addressed the size of Mott’s patient pool and the importance of their medical services. 

“There’s a lot of different issues that people don’t probably don’t think about,” Seymour said. “A lot of children need specialized care, and especially with Mott Children’s Hospital … that’s one of the bigger hospitals in the state, so people are coming from all over just so that they can get healthcare from Michigan Medicine Mott Hospital.”

Lindsay Heering, administrative director for child and family life, said the program’s services and resources to help child patients through difficult times have become increasingly important as the pandemic has added a layer of stress to families seeking medical treatment. 

“We still have patients who are being diagnosed with cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes and other chronic illnesses… Patients (are) in need of dialysis and infusion treatments and having procedures, experiencing pain and fear of the unknown and an increase of separation from the current visitor restrictions that we have in place,” Heering said. “The psycho-social risk of our patients and families is greater than ever, and the need for Child and Family Life has never stopped. The pandemic has forced out clinicians and be creative and reinvent our delivery of care.”

The program adapted to social distancing measures by providing virtual care and broadcasting to patients to help with their mental health. The Child and Family Life Team practiced swab tests through 3D printed noses and shared an educational video stressing the importance of wearing a mask to help children understand COVID-19. 

The Child and Family Life program introduced art therapy for children to help them express their emotions in a supportive environment. The program has both individual and group sessions to focus on each patient’s interests and help them cope with their emotions during the pandemic.

Heering addressed how children need activities to help with their psychological well-being, especially during a time when child patients are not allowed to leave the house. 

“Imagine all the children who have been at Mott since the start of this pandemic,” Heering said. “They’ve been stuck in their rooms, unable to see their family and friends, unable to be in our activity rooms. These kids need to play. They need to play in order to cope, to heal and to promote their emotional well-being.”

Educational specialist Brenda Henne said how taking care of child patients at Mott is not only medical but also developmental. Henne said the hospital put on virtual events including storytimes, graduation ceremonies for patients who graduated high school and parental guides and resources. 

“We take care of the most vulnerably ill children in our region, in our state and beyond, and their experience here at C.S. Mott is not only medical,” Henne said. “It’s all the things that combine to make their childhood memories, and we are the proudest to be the ones to have the privilege of being their teachers while in their care.” 

J.J. Bouchard, the manager of patient technology, said integrating recreational technology can motivate patients to meet their therapeutic goals. He added his team was very well prepared for the pandemic since they have been developing programs for patients and their families for the past five years. 

“Because of what we have been doing over the last five years, to help develop programs for our patients and families to reach out to each other and feel isolated, we were incredibly well-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard said Patient Technology developed video games to help patients interact with their friends, virtual reality to be able to explore their worlds through movement and activities like robotics and 3D printing. Michigan Medicine created MottTube, an online YouTube playlist of videos, in response to the pandemic to provide patients and families with interactions and resources. 

Meredith Irvine, music therapist and Sophie’s Place Studio manager, discussed how music therapy can help patients with their mental health. 

“Through music therapy we’re able to utilize music interventions in various ways … to help cope with hospitalizations, decrease anxiety and stress, increase self-expression and self-esteem and so much more,” Irvine said. 

Irvine announced Sophie’s Place, a dedicated music therapy studio within Mott, will open next year. The studio will provide patients a space and equipment to use music for their psychological and emotional needs by giving patients the chance to record music, produce music and learn how to play instruments. 

The Daily interviewed Heering, Bouchard and Irvine after the webinar to discuss Child and Family Life’s impact on their patients mental well-being and how the pandemic has affected their programs. 

Irvine discussed the significance of Mott continuing to function to treat patients during the pandemic and the mission of Child and Family Life. 

“It’s so important that our hospital continues to function to the safest and best capacity that it can because care doesn’t stop,” Irvine said. “If anything, we’ve elevated our care for what we provide for patients and families, and the mission of the hospital that remains true to patient-and-family-centered care has always remained, and really was exemplified during COVID-19. Our mission … is to provide comfort coping and education. We continue to provide various programming and interventions in a safe way that elevates mood, positive coping and helps patients and parents cope through hospitalization as best as we can.”

Heering also emphasized the importance of extending care to virtual services because of the pandemic.

“When we have barriers, such as the pandemic, that prevents us from doing (the) therapeutic value and support of our psychosocial services is very important to reach our patients and families in that way,” said Heering. 

Bouchard added to his presentation from the webinar by articulating the impact technology has on patients at the hospital.

“Our patient technology program has been working with our nurses (and) doctors to expand our patient’s ability to connect with the outside world for the last five years because they’re so limited in their ways to connect with their friends and family but also with each other and staff,” Bouchard said. “The hospital is almost an oasis for them. Technology plays an important role in all of our lives but a critical role for these kids.”

Irving said she hopes the hospital can continue with the leadership and the hard work in the future. 

“I hope our hospitals remain resilient. My hope that we would always continue to remain the leaders and the best and continue that approach to care in the future,” Irving said. 

Daily Staff Reporter Ann Yu can be reached at anncyu@umich.edu.

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