By Jean Yi
At Guthrie Health Care in Sayre, Pa., the no-visitor policy is one of the most emotionally challenging parts of COVID-19. When the possibility of restrictions was first raised, patients were so concerned that some felt the need to use their cell phones. “And of course that’s not preferred,” said Dr. Patricia Fogelman, director of the palliative medicine system at Guthrie.
But this desire for better communication prompted her to seek help from the Sayre community, resulting in online donations and 25 iPads. The hospital already had webcams for its telemedicine platform, so Dr. Fogelman made a request. “I reached out to our chief information officer,” she said, “and asked if we could have authorization to have all available webcams in the hospital deployed to our intensive-care unit computers.” The 30 cameras, mounted on computer stands, are intended for nurses to wheel around the ICU and use with patients.
“You were able to bring it to a patient’s bedside and have this interactive dialogue with their family and them,” Dr. Fogelman said. “Sometimes they were able to respond and sometimes they weren’t. … I think that mattered less than being able to see the person you love the most.”
She got the idea for the iPads over a weekend in early April and set up a Facebook fundraiser on behalf of the hospital. The first two iPads came in within the week. Help arrived in myriad ways. Dr. Fogelman’s goddaughter, after seeing the Facebook post, designed a flyer that helped draw hundreds of dollars in online donations.
Julie Reed, a Navy veteran and former patient of Dr. Fogelman, purchased three iPads to send to the hospital. Reed lives 80 miles away from Sayre but was motivated to help out. “The bottom line is I just thought it was the right thing to do for people. I mean, nobody wants to die alone.” she said.
The largest number of iPads, 20, came after Dr. Fogelman emailed a local Verizon store, which acted quickly with help from the corporate office. “They had them all programmed by the 15th” of April, Dr. Fogelman said.
She praised the hospital’s leadership for a unified effort. “There was really no resistance. I didn’t have any hoops to jump through…. I had an audience at the highest level in terms of executive leadership to run by and say: Can I have this done?”
She hopes Guthrie’s success can help dispel stereotypes of rural hospitals as technologically backward. Sayre is a Pennsylvania borough, with about 5,500 residents, near the New York state border. “Despite the rural location, we are a very forward thinking, modern rural system,” Dr. Fogelman said. “The word rural health care can take on different connotations. And I’m sure that for most of America rural healthcare, they think there’s banjos playing in the background. But that is not the case here.”
As coronavirus patients recover, some iPads are now stored away unused, or dedicated to other patients. The webcams are still in all the ICU rooms, where they will stay.
Like other aspects of society, hospitals have adapted pre-existing technology to match the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as tele-health and video conferencing. Dr. Fogelman said it’s “made people kind of realize that we could be doing this for patients all the time.”