Bears at the bedside: St. Mary’s ICU nurse finds unique way to connect COVID patients to family

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — For patients battling COVID-19 in the hospital — it often means isolation. Many hospital rules are limiting or even restricting visitors.

Michelle Vaughan has been an ICU nurse for a decade. Even for her, these coronavirus restrictions are a first.

“I was so upset and I kept thinking we have to be able to do better than this,” Vaughn explained after watching patients and families struggling with the distance.

Vaughan is on the frontline with COVID-19 patients at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Henrico.

She said loved ones visiting and supporting at the bedside typically helps patient outcomes. It wasn’t until that option was taken away entirely — that everybody noticed a difference.

“We didn’t realize how much we needed family here as well,” Vaughan tells 8News.

Thanks to technology, this nurse knew her team could do better.

And she had an idea.

“Immediately everybody just kind of came together and said oh my gosh we’ve gotta connect these families to one another somehow and this is a really great way,” Vaughan said.

These nurses ordered teddy bears and voice recorders and got to work.

They’d call a patient’s family, record a message, and stuff it inside the bear. It allows a bear to talk to the patient — many of them sedated, intubated, and ventilated.

A few simple tools brought “Be There Bears” to life — while helping families be at the hospital in a different way.

“We’re watching and we’re realizing they’re connecting with their family when they cant be here,” said Vaughan. “Its hard to put into words.”

Clinical Care Lead Meagan Wright said its a different kind of bedside manner when its the voice of your loved one.

“We’ve had patients who’ve said after they came out of sedation that they could hear the bear or hear their families talking to them,” Wright tells 8News.

The nurses said the hospital gave them the green light for the project — immediately asking how Bon Secours could support this initiative.

So far about a dozen “Be There Bears” have made it to patients in the ICU at St. Mary’s.

And they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I’d say its natural for nurses to want to do better,” said Vaughan.

The hospital said it’s not accepting donated bears due to risk for germs and contamination. The nurses said, however, meal donations have been a bright spot for staff during these long challenging days.

Send some love to these frontline workers by sharing photos and messages using the hashtag #MyHeroesWearScrubs.

The hospital is accepting supply donations, click here for more information.

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