Finding the Silver Lining: Reaching More Families Virtually

Because Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital cares for fragile children with medically complex needs, protecting these children and the hospital staff members who care for them from COVID-19 has been a critical priority.

As a result, all in-person community programs at Ranken Jordan have been canceled for 2020.

But just like the inspiring children at Ranken Jordan who never give up on their road to recovery, the hospital team has refused to give up on providing children and families opportunities to learn and thrive.

Under normal circumstances, Ranken Jordan offers numerous community programs and therapeutic activities including fishing, infant massage classes, golf, baseball, summer camps, support groups and other activities to help families connect.

Most of these activities take advantage of the hospital’s many amenities such as a putting green, stage, an outdoor playground and an accessible baseball field.

Driven by the hospital’s YES philosophy—essentially “where there’s a will there’s a way”—the hospital team has successfully pivoted during the pandemic to expand its reach to patients and families through virtual community events and programs.

Removing Barriers, Increasing Participation

The goal of the community programs is to create a sense of community—whether in person or virtually—and to keep families connected.

“We started looking at how we can still we make our programs happen rather than canceling them,” says Janine Roe, community program coordinator at Ranken Jordan. “We aren’t giving up these programs but are finding work-arounds and we’re adapting.”

The team members dipped their toes in the water with a virtual infant massage class.

Before the pandemic, about three or four people registered for the in-person infant massage class at Ranken Jordan. Because of COVID-19, the team adapted the class to be a virtual experience and participation for the first class doubled to eight, with one family even signing in from Florida.

“Parents were happy to learn infant massage in the comfort of their own home with no risk of exposure,” Roe explains. “In addition, virtual programming removes the barriers of transportation, child care and distance. We can even make infant massage a virtual program year-round, which means we can even offer it during flu season.”

Another event that has seen an uptick in participation by going virtual is a quarterly Speaker Series. Typically, 10-12 people attend but a speaker in June drew 37 registrations for a virtual presentation.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response we’ve received—it’s exciting,” Roe says. “People are jumping to get in. Virtual programs have made it easier for many people. We’ve been able to reach more people, even those with no ties to Ranken Jordan. Only positive things are coming from this.”

Roe continues: “We’re delivering programs to meet everyone’s needs now. Families can continue to enjoy leisure and recreation, feel a sense of normalcy, and be part of something. Some people may have felt left out before because they couldn’t participate due to lack of transportation or child care. With virtual programs, they feel more included.”

Another successful transition to a virtual program has been Bridges, a grief support group for those grieving the loss of something or someone in their lives. The support group previously only had a small number of participants but by holding the weekly meetings virtually, the number of people who can benefit from the support group has tripled.

“The silver lining has been that we’re able to improve our reach to families,” Roe says. “Many families live far away from Ranken Jordan so by making the group meetings virtual, more people can participate. Also, grief is a sensitive subject and some people feel more comfortable sharing their feelings from home rather than in person.”

Keeping Families Connected

The pandemic has prevented families from all being together at one time at Ranken Jordan.

Some families haven’t been together in nearly four months so technology has been instrumental in keeping families connected.

“Video calls allow the family to still feel connected,” says Megan Cassani, patient and family engagement liaison. “It allows for infants to still hear their parents’ and caregivers’ voices.”

She says video calls also help siblings.

Ranken Jordan offers virtual one-on-one sibling sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. These sessions focus on diagnosis education, positive coping and feeling connection with their siblings despite separation.

“Now more than ever siblings need support to answer their questions, educate them on the hospital and validate their feelings,” Cassani says. “Sometimes siblings get lost in the shuffle of things when there is a sick kid in the family. These virtual one-on-one sessions allow for the sibling to still get the support and attention they need.”

Recognizing the value of one-on-one virtual sessions, the hospital plans to continue one-on-one virtual sessions in the future to accommodate siblings who aren’t able to visit every day.

“The virtual platform has made sibling support more convenient for families,” Cassani says. “It also allows for siblings to maintain their normal schedules, which is so important during times of uncertainty.”

In addition, patients and families have exponentially increased FaceTime sessions with each other.

For patients at Ranken Jordan, summer camp is also continuing, although it will look a little different and a storytelling component will be done virtually. In addition, the team is working on a way to offer a social skills and self-esteem group virtually. Baseball and fishing are even a possibility this summer.

“We’re finding ways to connect so children and families don’t feel isolated,” Roe says. “It’s a team effort to figure out how to do things differently. Everyone is willing to give their time to make the programs work. We bring flexibility to do what’s best for kids.”

The Best of Both Worlds

Play—whether in-person or virtually—is an integral part of healing.

That’s why Roe says there’s still a place for being together in person at Ranken Jordan in the future. “We love hosting our families at our beautiful facility with our baseball fields, playground and climbing wall and we miss seeing everyone in person. But right now virtual community programs are the right thing to do.”

She continues: “This pandemic has taught us that virtual programs can complement our in-person programs to reach even more people. It’s the best of both worlds and has opened new doors for everyone.”