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Phoebe initiates child life program

Ansley Pate, 4, plays doctor with a stuffed animal Friday next to Mandy Lanier, child life specialist at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. The program is designed to ease the hospital experience for pediatric patients and their families.

Ansley Pate, 4, plays doctor with a stuffed animal Friday next to Mandy Lanier, child life specialist at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. The program is designed to ease the hospital experience for pediatric patients and their families.

ALBANY, Ga. — A new program has been established at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to make a child receiving care at the hospital less traumatic.

The child life program, which has been functioning since March 4, exists, officials say, to minimize fears and stress experienced by children, adolescents and families as related to health care experiences. This is often done by psychological preparation for tests, surgeries and other medical procedures, as well as providing support or distractions during procedures, therapeutic medical and age-appropriate recreational play, sibling support, support for grief and bereavement and emergency room interventions.

Child Life Specialist Mandy Lanier, who earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Valdosta State University, uses techniques such as playing doctor with stuffed animals so that young children can see how their blood pressure will be taken or how intravenous therapy (IV) is utilized.

“My job is to make the hospital less fearful for children and parents,” she said. “I tell them what they will see, hear and smell.”

One recent example included a patient she played “I Spy” with during a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, procedure.

“She didn’t realize when they had started or when they had finished,” Lanier said.

Tracy Morgan, vice president of women’s and children’s services at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said there were a number of people who applied for the child life specialist position — and that Lanier was the clear front-runner.

Since her time with Phoebe, Morgan said Lanier has looked at the stuffed animals and toys — sometimes known as “distraction tools” — at the hospital to see what will best work for the patients and how they can be effectively utilized. She has provided counsel on what additional games and toys to order.

“Having worked with child life specialists in the past, I realized it was needed here,” Morgan said.

Aside from playing doctor with dolls and stuffed animals, there are other ways to get children acquainted with the hospital setting. Some of the other methods that have been used at Phoebe so far have included making parachutes from physician procedure masks, making jellyfish from latex gloves or using syringes without needles for painting projects.

“It helps in making them more familiar with the medical tools,” Lanier said.

Blowing bubbles seems to be an especially effective tool for getting pediatric patients to relax, particularly for the younger children.

“There was a child in which the doctor was unable to hear breaths because he was crying,” Lanier said. “I blew bubbles and the doctor was able to hear him better.”

Lanier spends most of her time making rounds on Phoebe’s pediatric floor, seeing roughly 12 patients a day on that floor alone. In some cases, she gives games to patients to keep them distracted overnight until she can come back the next morning to check on them.

She is also called on by medical staff to see a child in the emergency center, like in the case of the recent school bus crash on Newton Road, and in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“In the NICU, we provide sibling support and explain why their little brother or sister is there — or help them to write a letter to them,” Lanier said.

The goal is to expand the program into all the areas of the hospital and the remaining facilities within the Phoebe Putney Health System that children touch, and to eventually conduct special events as well as offer pre-admission operating room tours for families whose children are receiving surgery.

“It certainly brings another aspect to children’s care,” Morgan said. “As long as they are not stressed, it is a better healing environment.

“... I can only see it growing.”

The program is also utilized for visiting children who have a sick relative in the hospital.

“I describe what they should expect to see when they walk in (the relative’s patient room),” Lanier said.

Officials say the program has gotten a strong response not just from the children, but from the parents as well.

“Having parents see less stress and anxiety in their children helps them,” Morgan said. “Anytime stress is lessened, it benefits the family as a whole.”

The service does not need to be ordered, and is provided at no charge to the families, both Lanier and Morgan said.

Since the program’s inception, there have been donations — as well as commitments to donate — from various entities. Christ’s Starfish Foundation of Jacksonville, Fla., recently donated six boxes worth of toys, Project Sunshine has donated stickers and markers and Tanners Totes donated 10 totes to distribute to pediatric patients.

Another donation from Sherwood Christian Academy is expected to come through in the next couple of weeks, Lanier said.

Those seeking more information on the program are encouraged to call (229) 312-2942.