It can be difficult to be hospitalized during the holidays. Add a pandemic and visitor restrictions, and it could make what is supposed to be one of the most magical times of year one of the most miserable.
Since the pandemic began some nine months ago, caregivers across the world have struggled with how to keep patients’ spirits up and keep them connected when they can’t have visitors. Meghan Miick, quality program manager at Encompass Health Toms River in New Jersey, knows just how challenging—yet extremely important—this task is.
Pre-pandemic, Miick was a marketing liaison, educating the community and referral sources about the services Encompass Health Toms River provides. Since COVID-19 closed hospitals to visitors, her role shifted to take on patient experience.
Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Encompass Health Toms River opened a COVID-19 unit to provide inpatient rehabilitation to those actively positive and recovering from severe cases of the virus. Most of the patients had been separated from loved ones for months and were desperate to reunite with family and friends. Miick and her staff found unique solutions to keep them connected during this time.
She said the holidays are always a hard time to be in the hospital, but it’s even more difficult when patients have limited access to their loved ones.
“I think we just have to take every opportunity to celebrate, and the holidays are no different,” Miick said. “It’s just important to know that everyone is going through something. We choose to be here; but these patients didn’t choose to be here, especially at this time.”
The following are some of her tips to help your patients during the holidays:
Get to know them early
Get as much personal information as you can about your patient at admission. What do they like to watch on TV? How do they take their coffee? Miick said the more you can learn about a patient early on, the easier it will be to make them feel comfortable and take their mind off of what their missing at home.
“Maybe they like westerns,” she said. “When you leave the room, put on a western and take them away from what they might be missing.”
Give them a break from the routine
Whether it’s providing coloring pages or games, Miick said activities that break up the ordinary routine of the day can help brighten patients’ spirits and get them thinking of something else other than what they are missing out on this holiday season.
At Encompass Health Toms River, they have a “wheel of fun” that staff spin for patients to win a small prize. “I know it seems silly, but patients really love it, and it gives them a break from the routine,” Miick said.
Over the holidays, the hospital is also planning a “silent” caroling crew that will dance along to music through the halls outside of patient rooms—socially distanced and with masks—to spread a little cheer. “We’re also handing out bells for patients to keep and jingle along with us,” she said. During caroling, staff will be handing out homemade holiday cards made by students at a nearby elementary school. On Christmas Day, appropriate patients will receive a special meal with plastic champagne flutes and sparkling cider to celebrate the day. Throughout the patient units, holiday music plays between the hours of approximately 12 to 6 p.m. Patients perk up and bop along to the music in their rooms.
Dedicate staff for virtual visits
During the COVID-19 pandemic, window visits and virtual visits have become commonplace and are of even greater importance during the holidays, Miick said. Encompass Health Toms River dedicated two staff members to facilitate virtual visits on Thanksgiving. The hospital also places numbers outside patient windows so family and friends can easily find their loved one for a window visit. Visitors are encouraged to decorate the windows to brighten the patient’s spirits. The hospital has also recently dedicated a place for family to visit their loved one through a glass door – our “Family Foyer” is our safe haven to connect patients to the outside world.
Communicate early and often
Now, more so than ever, Miick said, communication is key. Put memos on their meal trays, and check in early and often to see what they are doing.
“Over communication is really key to making them feel really comfortable,” she said. “It helps ease their anxiety. Staff members feel more purposeful when they can make these meaningful connections, especially at the holidays.”