Texas children’s hospital keeps young patients connected to family during COVID-19 outbreak

The hospital is ramping up in-house activities

Young Americans are at risk of being infected with COVID-19, despite people over 80 appearing to be the most vulnerable. Patients at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Texas are being treated by staff working around the clock to protect the children, while also helping them cope with the emotional impact isolation can have.

Jill Koss, the hospital’s family support services director, said security was tight in response to the pandemic, and social distancing was mandated in the facility. Only two primary caregivers are allowed inside, to reduce chances of spreading the coronavirus

“We are having to separate families, which is really hard. We have a rule now that siblings can’t come up to visit,” she told CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal. “So we’re trying to be creative in how we keep families connected.” 

The hospital is ramping up in-house activities like interactive television programs as one way to help keep children connected. Patients listen and interact with the TV as if they were being spoken to and guided through activities by a staffer or volunteer. 

Koss said it was important to recognize that though they are hospitalized, the children “still need to do all those normal kid things.”

“It’s amazing how when kids start to interact and engage and do things that are expressive for them… how they start to feel better,” she said.

Ella Plaunty, a 10-year-old hospital patient, said the hardest part of dealing with the current situation was “not being able to go to school.”

“I love school,” Ella said. The brave girl has been at Cook Children’s for nearly a month because she needed a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare autoimmune disease that cripples her ability to fight infections. 

“We’ve been practicing social isolation since November,” her mother, Baylor Plaunty said. Even before the crisis, Ella had been homebound because of her disease. 

Before the hospital’s Prayer Bear program was suspended to reduce risk, volunteer Robin Brezel had been the last one left handing out bears to children. 

Brezel said that if she could “do something to help a child or a family through a crisis,” she was willing to risk the chance of infection, before she too was asked to stay home.

“I’ll just wait for the word of when we can gear up again and get back to doing what we do,” she said.