Maria, a perioperative nurse at Tufts Medical Center, sat by the bedside of a COVID-negative elderly patient, Alex, who was in the hospital following an emergency surgery. Alex had connected with her family earlier in the day via facetime (with her case manager’s assistance), but now faced several lonely hours before nightfall.
Maria spoke with Alex, asking how she was doing, what concerns she had, and what might make her more comfortable. Just through this simple act of connection, she could see Alex’s body relax.
While they talked, Maria shared the resource Tufts’ patient-family advisory committee had created to help Alex find free entertainment online. Alex’s eyes lit up when she saw the link to videos showing penguins exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Maria also shared a kit with an adult coloring book to help Alex keep herself engaged and soothed with simple art.
Before leaving the room, Maria handed Alex a snack with a colorful notecard containing a simple yet powerful message from the care team: "We're thinking of you."
As Maria walked down the hall to visit another patient, a smile spread under her mask. Though her normal workload was greatly diminished due to the postponing of elective procedures, she was profoundly grateful for this chance to connect with patients and ease their suffering during this otherwise stressful and uncertain time. Caring and personal connection were why she’d chosen healthcare as her career and calling.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, the Tufts Medical Center (Tufts MC) leadership recommitted to a set of values they would hold sacred during the crisis. Among these were caring for team members and providing an exceptional patient experience.
Members of the patient experience committee, in collaboration with the chaplain team, set to work anticipating challenges and rapidly devising solutions that would alleviate suffering and allow team members, patients, and loved ones to maintain caring and connection even as infection control measures limited close contact and shutdown some services.
Powerful connections with patients and families
To help team members connect with both COVID-19 positive and non-positive patients and their families, the Tufts MC team initiated a variety of efforts, including:
• Commit-to-sit. Tufts MC quickly expanded its Commit-to-Sit pilot, reminding doctors and nurses to take extra time with patients, and even recruiting team members whose normal job roles had been disrupted by the pandemic. The goal was simple: to learn patients’ personal stories, identify concerns, hopes, and fears, and provide support for patients’ overall comfort and well-being. A veteran nurse of 32 years shared, “It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, just talking to patients. It’s been wonderful and it’s so simple.”
• About Me posters. Patients’ loved ones are normally a critical source of information about patients’ lives outside the hospital. Because families could no longer visit, the Tufts MC team invited loved ones to create a poster of photos representing the patients’ life and values, as well as answering questions about the patients’ hopes and fears. Posting these in patients’ rooms gave care team members a chance to connect on a deeper level.
• YouTube family video sharing. A family member suggested that YouTube videos could be a way for patients to feel their families’ presence even when a real-time virtual connection wasn’t possible. So the Tufts MC team created a detailed instruction guide to help loved ones make and upload the videos – allowing patients and team members alike to feel the love flowing in at any hour of the day or night.
• Legacy hearts. As much as hospitalized patients felt disconnected, loved ones at home were also suffering – especially when COVID patients couldn’t communicate due to ventilation or complications. The Tufts MC team encased EKG traces of the patient’s heartbeat in clear, heart-shaped glass delivered it to families who could hold onto it in spiritual connection with their loved one in the hospital. Originally designed for end-of-life situations, Tufts extended it to broader patient situations for the comfort it provided.
Thoughtful support for care team members
Knowing that care team members were also carrying the weight of these extraordinary times – both professionally and personally – the Tufts MC team also devised support aimed at lifting their energy. In addition to services offered at their Neely House Wellness Center such as story time, dessert sessions, aromatherapy, reiki, reflexology, yoga, and mindfulness, the team offered:
• Care carts and kid carts. To support care team members in the care environment, the team supplemented community-donated meals with a cart offering hot beverages and snacks. A second cart offered “kid kits” to staff members with children at home, as well as time to check in about family needs.
• Sleep blessing cards. Knowing that team members carried the stress of work to their already stressful (due to the pandemic) home lives, the Tufts MC team offered cards with an interbelief blessing for sleep accompanied by a Sleepytime® tea bag.
The surge of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has thankfully abated. The work that the entire patient experience committee and all who supported them – case management, palliative care, patient relations, pastoral care, volunteers, clinical teams, and others – allowed the Tufts MC community to stay true to their promise of “always thinking ahead” to provide safe, exceptional, compassionate care.
That and their recognition of the support that team members need to do their heroic work is the legacy of COVID-19 care at Tufts. This legacy will continue as the patient experience committee plans to explore which of the new practices they instituted will be woven into the fabric of their organization and last well beyond the pandemic that ignited them.
“It was just amazing how truly encircled by compassion the team made everyone feel – whether it’s for the patient who’s dying or the provider who is at the bedside,” said Terry Hudson-Jinks, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services at Tufts Medical Center. “The organization gave us permission, and our team rose to the occasion, bringing out the best in every single person. There’s so much here to pull forward into our new life.”