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Athens hospital seeks to allay fears of pediatric patients during pandemic

Pediatric nurse Hope Cymerman visits with 2-year-old patient Paislyn Heard

Staff at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center are working to show their young patients and their family members that hospital and emergency medical visits as well as other wellness checks during the pandemic are not only important, but also safe.

“We know that when parents are feeling anxious, nervous or worried about their children, kids pick up on that too,” said Michelle Strickland, manager of the pediatric unit at the Prince Avenue medical facility. “A hospital visit can be scary no matter who you are, even in normal times. But we want families to know that safety measures we have taken during the pandemic are in place to protect them and that it’s safe to seek care.”  

For two-year-old Paislyn Heard, seeking care was necessary. When Paislyn began experiencing complications from an ear infection, her mother Kayla Poole knew they needed to seek help immediately. The pair spent time at a hospital nearby, where Paislyn first had surgery.

“Her ear infection was so severe they had to do surgery to insert a tube to drain out her infection and a PICC line for her to receive ongoing antibiotics,” Poole said. The PICC line, also known as a peripherally inserted central catheter, is a long tube interested into a vein in the arm, leg or neck used for patients to receive long-term antibiotics or other medications.

With the PICC line in, Poole said she’d had to begin bringing her daughter to Piedmont Athens Regional every day for two weeks to receive her medication.

“At first, I was very nervous about coming to the hospital because Paislyn was so sick. I was worried she’d come in with one thing – her ear infection – and come out with more issues because of the pandemic,” Poole said. “But that wasn’t the case at all.”

Instead, Paislyn fell in love with her daily hospital visits, waking up each day excited to see the hospital’s staff.  

“We’d come in, go through the hospital’s screening station to get our temperatures checked. Paislyn and I would have on our masks and so did all of her nurses and doctors,” Poole said. “We didn’t really come into contact with other patients, and I felt really good about that. She really loved her time there.”

Pediatric nurse Hope Cymerman checks on 2-year-old patient Paislyn Heard

As part of Piedmont Athens Regional’s response to COVID-19, patients, visitors and staff entering the facility have to pass a health screening, which includes a quick questionnaire and temperature check. Visitors are required to wear masks or face coverings while inside the facility.

The hospital has also put measures in place specifically in its emergency room to help screen for COVID-19. Patients who come to the ER with symptoms associated with COVID-19 are immediately led to isolation rooms, so they aren’t in the waiting rooms where children might be and they’re away from other patients.

During her hospital visits, two-year-old Paislyn was also accompanied by the hospital’s certified child life specialist, Deanna Warren, who’d go over her treatment to ensure Paislyn understood what the nurses would be doing that day.

“It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from medical information and details about procedures to help reduce their fears and anxiety. What research has shown, however, is that developmentally-appropriate preparation, medical play and rehearsal of coping techniques can result in better overall outcomes for children,” said Warren. “Before starting her PICC infusion, Paislyn would request a dance party, so that’s normally how we’d start her appointments once she got comfortable with the medical side of things. I want to make things as fun and as comfortable as possible for these young patients.”

Warren helps children and their families visiting the hospital cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness by providing evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures, and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain.

“We had a really great experience,” Poole said. “With all of their safety measures in place, I felt really comfortable coming into the hospital each day, and it was Paislyn’s favorite thing to do – she didn’t feel like she was at a hospital.”

For more information about the pediatric unit at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and the hospital’s COVID-19 safety measures in place, visit

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