There is a prevalent belief that coronavirus (or COVID-19) is a disease that primarily affects older or immuno-compromised adults, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
And, yes, while the largest number of patients and deaths are in the older adult population, the impact on children thus far has been vast and wide, in ways you may not even know.
At Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, we’re seeing the impact of coronavirus up close and personal.
In our hospital, we have treated several patients with coronavirus symptoms, including respiratory distress, body aches, fever, and more. These patients are isolated, closely observed, and we are continually learning from global cases and established best practices, how they should be treated.
But the impact of coronavirus is much, much greater than the hospitalized patients. This virus has caused our patient visitation to be limited.
Parents with children in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are limited to only two hours of parent/child time per day, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Parents must be screened before entering the NICU, wear masks during cuddle time, and eventually leave knowing that our staff will take care of their newborns for the next 22 hours.
The mental anguish for parents is tremendous, and the lost time with their babies will never be recovered. Visitation to the rest of the hospital is restricted to one person at a time.
Fortunately, our team is there to step in. But the challenges are real for them as well. Being fully gowned and masked for 10-12 hours per day is not easy. Dealing with their own children, childcare concerns, elderly parents, or spouses puts our team members at greater risk of burnout.
Even with an outstanding team that has dedicated their lives to helping babies and children, this level of commitment is above and beyond what any of us could reasonably ask for. These team members are our heroes and role models.
Children outside the hospital are hurting as well.
Disruption from routine and social isolation can lead to challenges with mental health. Homeschooling or moving to online education is disrupting their normal social patterns. Children need positive social interaction as part of their development. Increased stressors at home or job losses also lead to mental health or substance abuse challenges for parents, which cycles back to affect the children.
Many of our children are facing food insecurity in their homes, increases in domestic violence, and may even have anxiety about potential homelessness. While some families are coming together during this crisis, unfortunately our most vulnerable populations, especially in underserved communities, often feel the brunt of economic downturns.
All is not lost. At Golisano Children’s Hospital we are seeing incredible outpourings of support from our local community and donors.
Our staff is well fed by the many offerings of food. We have the supplies and equipment we need to take care of our patients safely thanks to many who have donated masks, caps, gowns, shoes, and more. We received funding from one donor that bought lab equipment that enables us to turn around coronavirus tests within an hour.
Thanks to our Kids Minds Matter initiative, we have deployed Mental Health Mondays to help parents and children deal with the challenges they are facing. We have implemented iPads in our NICU (thanks to donors) that enable families to stay in touch with their babies and care teams throughout the day.
We have increased telehealth visits, so children can be seen by doctors and advanced practice providers without coming in to an office. Although we had to delay certain surgeries for over 45 days, we are starting again this week so that babies and children can be the healthiest they can be.
Children are not immune to COVID-19 and children's hospitals aren’t either. However, we want you to know that at Golisano Children’s Hospital, we are doing everything possible to provide the greatest physical, mental and social healthcare possible for your children every day and night, and especially during these difficult times.
We are truly grateful for your unwavering support of children, and we are incredibly proud to be your regional children’s hospital. We are here when you need us.
Armando Llechu is the Chief Administrative Officer at Golisano Children's Hospital.