Connecting families and patients

By The Health News Team | May 12, 2020
Members of Sharp Grossmont Family Resource Center

As COVID-19 surfaced in San Diego, the harsh new reality of hospital visitation policies that kept families apart called out for a gentle solution. At Sharp Grossmont Hospital, the staff outdid themselves to answer that call.

Patients and families face a tough challenge: they can no longer visit their hospitalized loved ones, except in end-of-life circumstances or if the patient is a minor. Those who can’t visit are torn, wanting to simulate being there “in person” as best as possible.

It was out of this reality that the Sharp Grossmont Family Resource Center (FRC) was born.

Located in an exterior room of the hospital, the FRC and the hospital team staffing it serve as a go-between — a physical proxy of sorts that gives visitors a connection between them and their hospitalized loved ones.

Staff can help families connect for an online Zoom chat with tablets available in the FRC. Items that families want delivered — a toothbrush, photo or other meaningful object — are inventoried, sealed and delivered to the patient. Notecards are provided for handwritten messages, along with a color printer and photo paper to print photos from phones. The team also delivers flowers to hospitalized patients.

“Some folks who first come in are skeptical, asking questions like, ‘when will she actually get this?’” says Kim Byrd, who is the point person for the FRC operation. “We tell them our goal is to deliver it as fast as a pizza comes.”

Beyond its delivery services, the FRC is outfitted with comfortable sitting areas, relaxing music, magazines and private space for loved ones who just want to stay nearby a while longer. All told, hundreds of families and loved ones have come through its doors since the new hospital visitation rules went into place.

Denise Sengebusch’s 82-year-old mother has been in the hospital for three weeks.

“She was very sick, but when we brought her here, we could only drop her off, and weren’t able to come in with her,” recalls Denise. “It was heart-wrenching for me.”

In the days following her mother’s admission to the hospital, Denise learned about the FRC and is now a frequent visitor — bringing cards from neighbors, photo albums and mementos from grandchildren.

“My mom was getting very depressed, but I was able to come here and tell her over the phone, ‘Mom, we’re just downstairs and we are sending you a longer phone cord and some flowers,’” Denise says.

“The staff took up the cord and, as I’d asked them to do, rearranged her whole setup to be better for her — things I would do if I could go to her room. Having them running interference is the next best thing to us being with her.”

Byrd has many visitor stories to share. This was one to remember: A patient was at the end of life and her two sisters had been selected as her two designated visitors, per the hospital’s regulations. Then, her elderly half-brother arrived by trolley, making the hard climb up the hill.

“He had come to say goodbye,” says Byrd. “After he caught his breath, he asked if someone could put the phone to his sister’s ear so he could bid her farewell.” The FRC team arranged the call with the bedside RN, but as soon as the siblings connected, he was so overwhelmed he couldn’t speak.

“Our staff helped guide the conversation by telling him what to say, until he found his own words. He thanked us for allowing him that chance to say goodbye and, still very emotional, he wished us happiness and good health when he left.”

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.