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Le Bonheur Children's Hospital baby hugger program finds innovative ways to continue despite pandemic

The Le Bonheur Children's Hospital baby hugger program is finding new ways to connect the littlest patients to volunteers.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Being in the hospital is hard enough – but for a baby, it can be extra difficult.   

That’s why the staff at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital has worked to transform its baby hugger program during the pandemic.   

“Originally it consisted of volunteers coming into the hospital to comfort and spend time with patients at the bedside specifically infants and toddlers,” said Hannah Rafieetary, the program volunteer coordinator.  

But with the pandemic,  the littlest patients weren’t allowed to see volunteers face to face.   

“We heard from some nursing administrators that they were a little worried about the long term patients who were in the hospital for weeks to months just only interacting with nurses and family members who were wearing masks and face shields,” said Rafieetary.  

Hospital staff were worried that not seeing smiling faces behind a mask might impact children’s development.  

“Obviously with the pandemic, they can’t come in the hospital anymore. So we came up with the idea to basically do facetime.”  

Now the program has switched to virtual interactions where children can safely play games and read with volunteers.   

It’s giving the children a chance to keep smiling and remain engaged while in the hospital.    

“The patients can see someone who has a friendly face, they can see their smile. They can see their lips moving they’re not covered up by a mask.”  

The baby hugger program is only offered to existing volunteers currently. 

Also, the activities they participate in are available to all ages.   

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