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Family Connection Cart helps loved ones in pandemic

Photo submitted to Times Observer Warren General Hospital officials recognize the donation of a Family Connection Cart that will allow COVID-19 patients to maintain contact with their families while hospitalized. Pictured (from left) are Adam Jensen-Withey, Sam Sivak, Mark Dunham of the Warren General Hospital Information Technology Department (on screen), WGH Director of Hospital Information Systems (HIS) Cheryl Girardier, and Jenna Dunning of the Social Services and Psychiatric Services Department.

It’s bad enough to be hospitalized with a serious illness or to lose a family member.

Going through a hospitalization without family, or not being able to be with a family member as they pass on, can be much more difficult.

COVID-19 has put people in those situations.

A Warren County resident is fighting back with a Family Connection Cart.

Sam Sivak wanted to find a way help people connect even when there are rules against visitation.

“The part of COVID-19 that upsets me the most is that people are in the hospitals along and often passing away with family not by their side,” Sivak said. “A lot of times they go to the ER for a visit, not knowing they are as bad as they are or deteriorate quickly and never come back out of the hospital. When their family drops them off, it unfortunately becomes the last they see of them. That’s upsetting to me.”

“Recovering from the Coronavirus can be a very lonely task for patients who can’t have anyone in their hospital rooms during their inpatient stay at a hospital,” Director of Marketing and Business Development George Lilja said.

The community has been trying to help front-line workers with deliveries. “I was trying to think of something different,” Sivak said.

Sivak’s wife is the night hospitalist at Warren General. “I can’t be a hero like my wife and all the other health care workers in trying to save people, but I can at least try to help in the little way that I can,” he said.

He spoke with Adam Jensen-Withey. “I knew he was working on cyber security,” Sivak said.

“I told him my idea of wanting to help patients connect with family in the hospital and nursing home,” he said. “We spent an hour researching right then and eventually came up with the portal as the best device.”

“We wanted to know if there was a cost-effective and secure way for COVID patients to be able to speak to family members when they were in the COVID wing,” Jensen-Withey said. “I helped him out with the technical details.”

“It’s a Facebook portal. It lets patients Zoom call with family members,” he said. “I priced it out as an all-in-one unit. It was cost-effective.”

“Together, Adam and I have streamlined the portal to be very user-friendly in the hope that any staff member can confidently use it,” Sivak said.

The touchscreen portal is anchored to a cart. Hospital personnel can sanitize it between uses and wheel it around to different patients. It’s called the Family Connection Cart.

“COVID-19 patients can now be connected to their loved ones via the new Family Connection Cart (FCC) that was donated by Sam Sivak and Adam Jensen-Withey to WGH,” Lilja said. “Support family members, from the comfort and safety of their homes, can communicate and see coronavirus patients. This new capability will help the recovery process of patients by giving them access to the people who can lift their spirits and give them encouragement.”

“Not everyone will need to use it as many are using their phones,” Sivak said. “I’m hoping to catch the ones that don’t have that access.”

Sivak hopes to be able to bring the same service to other care facilities.

The FCC effort is spreading.

“We now have one at Warren General and are getting ready to get one to the Rouse and Watson Homes,” he said. “After the hospital posted the FCC cart on Facebook, Scott and Kelly Newton of Gaughn’s Drug Store called and are funding one for us to donate to another care facility.”

“I saw a post on Facebook about what Sam and Adam were doing and it just struck a cord that it was something I wanted to be a part of,” Scott Newton said. “When Sam told me more about this, I didn’t think twice to help join in the efforts. I’m donating a cart on behalf of Gaughn’s Drug Store.”

The Newtons did not specify a location.

“I’m not really sure where it will be going – I told Sam wherever he can find a need,” Newton said. “I trust he will find it a good home as there are many facilities and residents of these facilities in Warren County that could use this technology.”

“We hear day in and day out how many people are being negatively impacted with COVID, and if we can help bring a smile to someone’s face, we’ll do it,” he said. “I can’t imagine being in the position of not being able to see one of my family members, especially at a time when that comfort is needed the most.”

“The value is really immeasurable,” Newton said. “If it makes a difference for just one person then in my mind it’s priceless.”

“I have spent many days and weeks in the hospital,” he said. “Thankfully it was before COVID – I was blessed with so much support from friends, family and loved ones. I know first-hand how important that social interaction is, how much it can help while battling an illness, and what a difference it can make in how you feel.”

“It’s much easier to get through severe illnesses when you aren’t battling it alone,” Newton said. “These communication carts make that possible during these tough times of quarantine restrictions, and very limited family visitation. It won’t be that same as someone there holding your hand but it certainly is the next best thing.”

“Having the ability to see your loved ones’ faces as if they are sitting in the room will definitely make a difference in many people’s lives,” he said. “The value is really immeasurable, if it makes a difference for just one person then in my mind it’s priceless.”

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