IU Health to keep family liaisons beyond pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS — What started out as a temporary position to help bridge the communication gap between patients, their care team and their loved ones is now a permanent position at Indiana University Health Hospital.

Nurse Family Liaisons were created when COVID-19 hit. Most of them were nurses who usually worked in elective surgeries that had been canceled due to the virus.

Amber Sweet was one of those nurses who transitioned to a family liaison. Since visitation wasn’t allowed, she said her position was heavily utilized.

“They kind of depended on hearing from us every day,” said Sweet. “There were some that they knew my voice when I called.”

IU Health Emergency Physician Dr. Timothy Ellender told us about this position weeks ago. He said it would be sticking around even after the pandemic is over.

“Communication has always been kind of a shortcoming of that sort of care paradigm, and I think these new ombudsmans or whatever you want to call them, communication experts, are going to be probably important even in an era outside of COVID,” explained Ellender. “We’ve learned how to do things like Skype and how to do Facetime phone calls. That technology has been around. It’s probably not something we would have looked to use day-to-day in the medical environment, but it’s something we’ve learned to use, and I think it’s probably is here to stay.”

Sweet said she used video chat applications to connect families every day.

“The patients generally were under sedation, so they didn’t know what was going on, but I did go into their rooms, I would let the families see them, sometimes it definitely helped when they didn’t understand the gravity of the situation since they couldn’t be there every day,” said Sweet.

They even threw a virtual birthday party for one patient.

“We made balloons out of gloves and made a banner and everything so his family could see him on his birthday,” recalled Sweet.

A lot of these interactions were difficult and emotional. Sweet said this role is not easy.

“I just kept thinking that you know, this is how I can contribute, it was kind of difficult, but if I needed to just have somebody cry on the phone with me and just get those feelings out, that’s what I could do,” said Sweet.

She is back doing elective surgeries now, but she’s so glad IU Health is hiring permanent liaisons to replace her.

“I grew really close to several families,” explained Sweet.

Non-COVID-19 patients are now allowed one visitor per day at IU Health.

However, those IU Health patients with COVID-19 can only use family liaisons to communicate with their loved ones until further notice.

Here are the current guidelines for IU Health visitors:

  • Visitors must be 18 or older.
  • Visitors will not be allowed for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Visitors in emergency departments, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient clinics and medical offices will be facilitated on a case-by-case basis depending on space and ability to maintain social distancing measures.

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