Information technologists 'pop the tech bubble' to connect with HSHS patients

August 1, 2019


For Trisha Redpath, the chance to take part in a project to gather mentally stimulating items for adult hospital patients hit close to her heart.

Colored pencils, pens and crayons are added to craft packs for adult hospital patients.

"I feel like I've had a lot of people, friends, that have been in the hospital here at St. Mary's and I've seen what they're going through," said Redpath, a technical analyst based at HSHS St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur, Ill. "Some of them are lonely, don't have any family and maybe just a couple of friends."

Her desire to provide a pick-me-up for patients with downtime spurred Redpath to join the Caring Hearts | Healing Minds program set up by Hospital Sisters Health System information technology staffers. She is one of the program's two leaders at St. Mary's.

The project grew out of an ongoing effort to encourage the hospital system's IT staff to find ways to more directly affect the patient experience, said Dr. Ray Gensinger, vice president and chief information officer for HSHS.


Like many others on the IT staff, Gensinger is based at a remote campus near Springfield, Ill., several miles from the nearest HSHS clinical facility. He said that while he encourages his 600-person staff to keep the patient experience in mind, that can be challenging for staffers who don't interact with patients.

To that end, IT staffers were asked during their evaluations to propose at least one idea for how to make the hospital experience better for patients. Gensinger said hundreds of ideas were pitched and, so far, seven or eight of them are in place. The Caring Hearts | Healing Minds program is one.

Ask the expert
Gensinger credits Patty Stake for putting it in motion. Stake, human resources information systems IT manager for HSHS, said she and some of her deskbound colleagues knew they wanted to make a personal connection to patients, but they weren't sure how.

They decided to reach out to a nursing supervisor for guidance and Stake set up a meeting with Allison Paul, chief nursing officer for HSHS' Central Illinois Division.

Paul told the IT staffers that while several organizations have programs to offer comfort to patients, most of that kindness is targeted at the youngest ones.

"As we were talking, I said I feel like, (for) the adult population, there's an opportunity to provide some of that same level of interaction or activities," Paul said.

Paul also noted that studies point to improved outcomes, such as fewer falls, for patients who have access to diversion activities.

With that in mind, Stake and her colleagues came up with the idea of putting together activity packets that could be handed out to adult patients.

In addition to consulting with Paul, Stake said she and others who took the lead in the effort also talked with infection prevention and patient experience staffers to ensure that their final project didn't violate any regulations and that the staff completing the projects would observe all necessary precautions for clinical settings.

"It was definitely a learning experience for us," Stake said of the interaction with the various departments.

Puzzles and crafts
They settled on a plan to assemble two types of gift packets. One is a game pack that includes a word search, crossword or Sudoku puzzle, a deck of cards, a spot-the-difference challenge and pencils and pens. The other is a craft pack with an adult coloring book, crayons, sketch paper, colored pencils and watercolor paints.

Information Technologists
Hospital Sisters Health System staff, from left, Whitney Brasel, Allison Paul, Patty Stake and Kristen Kemper with some of the adult gift packages assembled by IT staff and donated to hospitals in central and southern Illinois.

Stake said that once an email about it went out to the staff, the project took on a life of its own. The project name was chosen and the specific donations needed for the packets were decided on in March. Bins were set up to collect the goods in April. Volunteers assembled the packs in May and early June. By the middle of that month, dozens of packets were dropped off at St. Mary's and HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield. The packs are also available at HSHS hospitals in the Illinois communities of Effingham, O'Fallon, Shelbyville, Highland and Greenville.

"We have received a lot of praise from the hospitals," Stake said. "They're very appreciative."

In addition to the goodies, each packet contains a motivational note for the recipient. One of the IT staffers wrote about 15 messages that are randomly added to the packs. Among the messages: "Let your faith be bigger than your fear" and "God is like software — He enters our life, scans our problems, edits our tensions, downloads solutions, deletes all our worries, and saves us."

"I read each one and they are beautiful healing inspirational messages," Stake said.

Redpath said a second phase of the IT staff's outreach plan is in development. That will involve staffers voluntarily visiting lonely patients on their lunch hours and after work. The idea, she said, is to take patients' minds off their health concerns for awhile.

Gensinger said he would love to see the gift pack program provide a boost in patient satisfaction that shows up in the surveys HSHS does.

But equally important, he said, is that Caring Hearts | Healing Minds demonstrates that the IT team members at HSHS "continue to think beyond what their day-to-day (work) is in making a difference to the patients that we serve across our health care system."

Copyright © 2019 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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