— Technology helped Deborah Leahy cope with the loneliness of a two-week hospital stay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From her sixth-floor bed at Memorial Medical Center, the 67-year-old Springfield resident was able to see her daughter, who lives in Florida, for the first time in almost a year, thanks to an iPad provided free by Memorial during her recent stay.
“It was so fun,” she said of the FaceTime calls with her daughter on the iPad. “I had never used one before.”
And for her daughter, who used an iPhone during the video conversations, the experience was uplifting.
“Just to be able to see her face — it brightened her day, and it did mine, too,” said Patricia Szydlowski, 46, who grew up in Edinburg and now lives in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Memorial Health System made 110 iPads and iPhones available to patients at its central Illinois hospitals in Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville, Taylorville and Lincoln so inpatients could use the devices to connect with loved ones during the pandemic, according to Tiffany Otten, system director for patient experience.
The total includes iPads that were donated by Decatur Public Schools, 55 that were purchased by the health system and some that were being used for a different program, Otten said.
The most popular use of the Apple devices are apps that allow for video calls, she said.
With the temporary suspension of visiting hours during the pandemic, the Apple devices offer options for patients who don’t already have access to such technology, Otten said. Her staff members have assisted patients in programming phone numbers and using the devices.
Memorial patients and their families have been “very appreciative,” Otten said.
Leahy, a widow and former Horace Mann insurance claims processor, said she doesn’t consider herself tech-savvy. In fact, she doesn’t own a cell phone, and she said she rarely opens her laptop computer.
But at the suggestion of her doctor, Springfield Clinic vascular surgeon Dr. Stephen Ryan, Leahy requested an iPad. With some instruction from Memorial patient-experience liaison Jeremy Holmes, Leahy was making FaceTime calls on her own. She said she was surprised how easy it was.
Leahy said the video calls were welcome during a stay when her lower-left leg was amputated because of complications from Type 2 diabetes. After the hospital stay, she was discharged to Lewis Memorial Christian Village in Springfield, where she is recovering and undergoing rehabilitation.
Szydlowski said she told her mother in one of the FaceTime calls, “‘We’re not able to embrace, but we are going to embrace technology.’”
Leahy and Szydlowski said they were so happy with the video calls that they plan to acquire an iPad for Leahy’s use at home.
“To actually get to see your loved one is priceless,” said Szydlowski, a bank employee.
Many doctors, nurses and physical and occupational therapists are connecting with families through the new iPads when they stop by Memorial patients’ rooms, Otten said. That way, relatives can be more involved in the care of family members, she said.
“For relatives not to be there to advocate is so hard,” she said. “This is connecting them to the care team again, and that is a huge difference and a comfort for the family.”