LIVINGSTON, NJ – Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) recently invited children between the ages of four and eight to a free luau-themed Educational Teddy Bear Clinic on Wednesday, where kids brought their favorite stuffed animal to learn about medical equipment and procedures. With the intention of becoming comfortable with visiting a hospital, each child and their teddy bear “patient” visited a series of interactive, medical play stations.
The clinic was designed by Child Life Services at Saint Barnabas to create different medical experiences similar to ones children or their family members might have when they go for an annual checkup or are admitted to a hospital. Medical play stations were set up for parents and children to visit at their leisure that included an emergency department, height and weight, temperature and blood pressure, eyes and ears, lab work and IV, X-Ray, hospital bed, nebulizer, infection control, immunizations, physical therapy, nutrition, burns, and fire and police safety.
Families from more than 12 towns in New Jersey attended what was the ninth annual SBMC Teddy Bear Clinic. Child Life Therapist Lou Grace Tan said the clinic is an exceptional learning experience and that the hope is for kids to learn something about the hospital and become more familiar with it.
“Our ultimate goal is to get kids to not be afraid and comfortable with going through the motions at a hospital,” said Project Associate of the SBMC Foundation Kara Orlando, who also spoke highly of the event’s Child Life Service and recruited volunteers.
Those involved in Child Life at SBMC are there to work with any pediatric patients who might need company or a distraction during procedures. Child Life and Music Therapist Melissa Santiago referred to the program as a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life when he or she is going through a difficult experience.
The Child Life Department has both music and art specialists who hold events such as this one to educate children on illness and procedures while also offering distractions and emotional support in real-life situations. According to Santiago, the Child Life mission is to improve the patient experience for patients and their families.
Clinic Participant Jamie Bandiermonte said she brought her two sons because she didn’t want her children to develop her own phobia for needles. Her oldest son, Jonah, had already been admitted to a hospital once when he was bitten badly by a dog. Her goal in attending was to show her son that he does not have to associate hospitals with only bad news.
“I read about the event and thought since this is a time of year that is hot, it was something nice to do indoors,” Bandiermonte said. “Both of my kids have had a hospital stay so it was a good time to make them unafraid.”
Also among the volunteers were several community advocates, a group of volunteers who dedicate their time to supporting the hospital and outreach for education. Volunteer Cynthia Vallario got involved in the program when she connected with a staff member before and after her own hospital stay. She also said the Teddy Bear Clinic is one of the most looked forward to events and is always surprised at how knowledgeable some of the children already are.
“It’s a very successful program and the children seem to love it,” Vallario said. “The staff does such a great job and it’s a fun experience for the children.”
Child Life Therapist Danielle Martello agreed, saying she always finds that she learns more from the participating children than they learn from her.
Some children, like Jonah Bandiermonte and Isabella Hernandez, said they were excited to bring their friends Beary and Fluffy through the different medical procedures. Six-year-old Isabella, who shared her interest in becoming a doctor, favored the blood pressure station while Jonah concentrated on repairing Beary’s neck injury.
The stations allowed for the children to become familiar with the procedures, but also served as a means of teaching them how to prevent certain infections like MRSA, bacteria that can get into a child’s skin, blood and lungs. Many parents left the event with a pledge for their children to sign, promising to wash their hands.
One station also advertised Child Life and Music and Art Therapy programs. Some of the goals of these types of therapy are to increase relaxation, decrease anxiety, decrease the perception of pain and offer opportunities for emotional expression. Child Life also offers a Teen VIP program for teens to volunteer with patients on a pediatric level.
“I really love kids and am looking forward to working with kids in the future,” said Student Volunteer Kelly Olszuk, a pre-med student at Kean University. “I was hoping this would give me the experience and atmosphere for what I might be working with.”
Samantha Anton, Assistant Director of Public Relations and Marketing, wanted to share special thanks to program underwriters Johnson & Johnson and Toys ‘R Us. The program was supported by The John La Conti, M.D. Child Life Fund and administered by the Saint Barnabas Medical Center Foundation.