COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

Virtual volunteer initiatives are having a positive impact at Sunnybrook

Musicians sing Happy birthday virtually to a patient.
Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

A new pilot program at Sunnybrook’s Holland Centre is helping reach patients, despite the current realities around COVID-19. Restrictions to visitors and volunteers onsite have been important in ensuring patient safety, but can also be challenging says Erin Di Lella, volunteer coordinator. “Some patients can feel isolated, so we wanted to try out some new ways to help connect people safely.”

She says several initiatives around virtual volunteer outreach are already having a positive impact on inpatients. One provides musical birthday greetings, recorded by volunteer Gemma Donn, who is also a concert violinist. Together with several of her musical colleagues, Donn records a customized greeting that includes singing. Amber Hall, a recreational therapist at the Holland Centre, then brings the recording to the patient’s room to safely view it on a sterilized iPad. “The patient watching the surprise video is then recorded, and this is combined with the original to create a keepsake the patient can watch over and over,” says Di Lella.

In another form of outreach, volunteer John Maxwell is leveraging the positive impact of his therapy dog Cooper. Maxwell takes a picture of Cooper outfitted with a special message specifically for inpatients on their birthdays. Hall then prints off a copy for the patient to keep and enjoy.

A dog named Cooper looks at the camera.

“With the suspension of volunteers onsite, these are ways our fantastic volunteers can continue to help,” says Di Lella. She adds that discussions are currently underway to expand the virtual volunteer experience. In the future, that might include other activities, like teaching patients to knit or explaining how to perform certain magic tricks over Zoom teleconferencing. While the realities around COVID-19 have changed our lives, Di Lella says the need for human connection will always be with us.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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