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Helping young patients cope with the COVID-19 pandemic: Primary Children’s Caregivers help PPE be less scary for kids through play

Intermountain Healthcare

Caregivers are helping to ease the fear that young patients may have about all the people behind the masks because of the coronavirus. Surae Chinn of ABC4 discussed this topic with expert Antonia Vitela, A Certified Child Specialist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital today.

Being a child in a hospital can be scary – especially if you see people dressed in personal protective equipment worn for COVID-19 protection – the kind of equipment kids may see in a sci-fi movie. 

Enter Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital child life specialists, an artistically-inclined nurse practitioner, and a splash of color – and it’s not so scary after all for young patients. 

Primary Children’s child life specialists have created a new PPE coloring book to help kids better understand why some caregivers wear strange clothes and equipment, like gowns and face shields and hoses strapped to their backs, instead of the colorful scrubs that they would typically see outside of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital wants kids to know that underneath the shields are the same friendly faces of the nurses and doctors who help them, and who many patients have come to know and love. 

“We’ve noticed any child who comes into the Emergency Department, or any kiddos getting tested, are seeing a lot of our caregivers wearing PPE. We know this can make the hospital even scarier because the PPE is unknown and it’s covering people’s faces,” said Antonia “Davi” Vitela, a certified child life specialist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “We wanted a positive resource that kids and parents can use together to familiarize themselves with PPE, understand why people wear it, and express any emotion they’re feeling about it.”

Child life specialists help children to understand the hospital setting and express emotions about being in the hospital, most often through play. Child life specialists frequently use medical play or toys of objects found in the hospital. 

Medical play dolls wear a hospital gown, and kids draw in their own faces or stitches and use toys such as a specially designed play IV pole, CT scan, and an anesthesia mask.

The PPE coloring book was compiled using medical clip art and inspiration from child life specialists and artistic skills of a palliative care nurse practitioner. It is available to all patients in English and in Spanish when they arrive at Primary Children’s. Children in other Intermountain Healthcare hospitals throughout Utah also can receive a coloring book from their child life specialist or nurse. 

The coloring book has pictures and explanations of equipment like a PAPR and other PPE, spaces for children to draw what they see around them. It discusses germs and viruses, the hospital and emotions, and asks kids to make a list of things that help them feel better, like listening to a favorite song, to give them coping mechanisms during their hospital stay at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.

“The pandemic has been hard on kids with the visitor restrictions and siblings being unable to visit them,” Vitela said. “Even though some of the restrictions are being lifted, it’s a difficult time. We’ll keep making the effort to make the hospital a welcoming place for kids and helping them feel more comfortable.” 

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