Volunteers ease stress of surgery at children’s hospital

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In an effort to offer continued support to children and youth undergoing surgery, the operating room (OR) staff at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), implemented a program that allows parents to be present during the anaesthetic induction of their child. Launched in the fall of 2007, the Parental Presence at Induction (PPI) program strives to greatly reduce separation anxiety in children who have until now, been separated from their parents at the entrance to the OR.

Mature volunteers accompany parents through their children’s anaesthetic induction. In addition to escorting parents into the OR, they assist the Post-Anaesthetic Care Unit (PACU) in liaising with parents in the waiting room, guiding parents to acquire appropriate OR attire, escorting parents in and out of the OR with their children to waiting area, and attending to parents who wish to remain with their children while undergoing anaesthetic induction in the operating room.

To further enhance the experience, volunteers provide play opportunities for children in the day care surgery area to create a welcoming environment and provide distraction to patients from their anxiety and boredom.

The unit Child Life Specialist is the primary staff support to the volunteers. As a team, volunteers are expected to notify the Child Life Specialist of absences in advance and are responsible to find a replacement to cover any absences.

“I have been working in day surgery for 23 years. I remember the time when we did not have volunteers in our department. With the large number of patients coming through our unit these days I find that having volunteers on the unit, gives me the opportunity to focus on patient care. I am amazed at how smooth the program flows and how well trained the volunteers are. They are always very attentive and supportive to the needs of our patients and families. I think volunteers bring something special to our department, they are fun to have around and I appreciate them,” says Carole Reid, a CHEO Nurse.

While all volunteers are asked to make a minimum commitment to the hospital of one year, working a set shift once-a-week, 90 per cent of the volunteers continue to maintain their position since the program’s launch in 2007. Volunteers are scheduled in teams of two per shift, morning and afternoon during the weekdays.

The program is best suited for candidates who are retired, semi-retired, consultants, or “domestic engineers / home workers” and not impacted by extended study breaks and or, for those who travel or vacation frequently. The program’s volunteers have strong interpersonal, social and communication skills in order to be comfortable with parents’ emotional needs and are comfortable in the operating room and surgical setting. The role for the volunteer requires mobility and an ability to walk frequently, and stand on feet for extended periods of time.

Laura Elgee began volunteering in the Day Care Surgery 2006 as a playroom monitor in the waiting room and has transitioned to the Parental Escort role. She has seen how this unique opportunity enhances the flow of service by bridging the rapport between a volunteer and the family from arrival to departure.

CHEO is fortunate to involve volunteers as an additional support and resource in activities that further enhances the care to children, youth and families in Ottawa, but also Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec, Nunavut and parts of Northern Ontario.