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Making a difference: Virtual visits “touch” many lives

Bellingham | May 18, 2020
Chaplains used technology to help patients connect with loved ones during the pandemic.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have needed to put into place strict “No Visitor” policies for the safety and protection of patients and caregivers. This has been difficult for patients and their loved ones as well as for many caregivers.  

Another challenge at this time is the need for hospitals to conserve Personal Protective Equipment which sometimes restricts access of caregivers such as chaplains who would normally be with patients who are dying.  

At PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington, Chaplain Nettie Post remarked, “It is hard to not be in the room and to comfort the dying, to hold their hand and to make eye contact.”  

With the need for social distancing and conservation of PPE, PeaceHealth chaplains have found new ways to provide a healing presence to patients, their loved ones and to caregivers. 

Connect using FaceTime or Zoom 

One of the new means to minister to patients has been to find ways to connect them with their loved ones by phone or through virtual visits using FaceTime or Zoom.  

For patients and families who do not have the tools to make these connections, the Spiritual Care department is grateful that PeaceHealth quickly supplied them with iPads to use for these virtual visits. 

Many meaningful visits 

Spiritual Care has witnessed many meaningful visits using the iPads. One in particular involved an 80-year-old man in the intensive care unit who was receiving end-of-life care for terminal lung cancer complicated by a new diagnosis of COVID-19. His wife of 55 years - reluctant to visit in person - was very appreciative of the offer to connect with her husband via the iPad. The couple’s daughter eventually arranged a group video conference with 13 family members located in various parts of the country. 

After coordinating the timing of the virtual visit with the ICU caregivers, Chaplain Nettie arranged with Andy Fisher, one of the ICU techs, to ‘host’ the iPad in the patient’s room.  

As part of the hospital’s PPE conservation plan, Nettie wouldn’t have to put on PPE, as Andy would already be suited up during his work shift. Nettie started the video conference outside the patient’s room, greeting the wife, daughter and other family members joining the conference from seven different locations.  

Andy took the iPad into the room and held the device for the patient who was alert and energetic as he engaged with his loved ones. The family was able to share laughter, stories, and loving good-byes via the iPad. 

Both heartwarming and sad 

Afterward, Andy remarked how moving it was to witness those family exchanges. “I appreciated having this set up to make these connections,” he said. “Hearing each person say their good-byes was both heartwarming and sad.”  

Initially, Andy experienced some moral distress. “It bothered me thinking that his family thought he would be dying alone,” said Andy, and it helped knowing that various caregivers had spent time at the man’s bedside and were with him when he died peacefully the day after his virtual visit with his family 

Andy had an unusual opportunity to connect with the man’s wife and shares, “It was like a miracle that I was able to tell her ‘Your husband did not die alone,’ and I think that meant so much to her.” 

Extra coordination, but worth it 

According to Chaplain Nettie arranging for these virtual visits takes a lot of extra coordination, with long phone calls to family members and sometimes explaining to them how to use the technology. “It’s been worth it,” she said. “I really appreciated having Andy take the iPad into that room. He was so compassionate and friendly.”  

These virtual visits are making a tremendous difference in the lives of our patients and their families who otherwise could not visit during this pandemic as with this patient.  

They also help clinical caregivers to experience less distress as they stick to the strict “No Visitor” policy needed during the pandemic. These caregivers feel a sense of relief and gratitude as patients are able to connect with their loved ones because of the virtual visits. 

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