Coronavirus: Boston nurse prints family photos for patients’ bedsides during no-visitor policy

Stock photo of a hospital bed.

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Stock photo of a hospital bed.

A Boston nurse determined to provide comfort to patients battling coronavirus in the hospital without their families has launched an effort to bring their loved ones' smiling faces to their bedside.

Jeanna Barbieri, an emergency room nurse at Lowell General Hospital, spent much of her shift last Friday caring for a woman who arrived at the ER critically ill from COVID-19.

Because the hospital, like other facilities across the country, is prohibiting visitors for coronavirus patients and others, Barbieri, with support from her team, took care of the patient and comforted her in her final hours.

“She wasn’t going to make it upstairs [to be admitted], and I spent my whole shift basically with her. And I did hear the next day that 14 minutes after my shift ended, she passed away,” Barbieri said. “Being in that room and having it be my first end-of-life experience during all of this was – I really felt the weight of all of this in that moment.”

That experience and a request from an old high school friend to deliver pictures to his ill father in the intensive care unit got Barbieri thinking. She bought a photo printer, set up a new email address and offered on social media to print pictures of family members to deliver to patients’ rooms. Within minutes, Barbieri’s Facebook post had taken off.

"I took a selfie, and I posted the picture, and I explained what my goal was, and it caught like wildfire," Barbieri told Boston 25 News Friday. "I never in a million years thought it would get a hundred shares, never mind, I think we're almost at 6,000."

Within hours, on Thursday night, family and friends of three Lowell General Hospital patients had sent photos to Barbieri. She printed them out, and on Friday, she brought them to nurses on their floors to deliver to the patients’ rooms. By Friday afternoon, Barbieri had received five more requests.

The photos – varying from baby pictures to wedding memories to Thanksgiving meals – provide comfort to patients who are ill and may be scared and to their anxious families feeling helpless at home. But families of patients who do not have coronavirus and are not able to visit are also encouraged to send their requests.

“I think bringing in those normal life elements, having families and friends – it’s okay to miss them,” Barbieri said. “But you know what? Here they are. They’re closer. They’re thinking of you. I just think being able to do that for people is really huge right now.”

Barbieri and other medical staff also make regular phone calls and check-ins with family members to keep them in touch and up to date on their loved ones’ progress.

The hospital bought a surplus of cell phone chargers to make sure patients can call and FaceTime with their loved ones around the clock.

But having the physical pictures of family by patients’ beds or taped to their windows is comforting to the patients’ medical teams, too.

"I honestly think that it feels good for the nurses to be able to go in right now and say, 'Hey, look at this positive thing,'" Barbieri said, "because we're in masks, complete protective wear. We're covered, and so I think we feel very impersonal in these rooms."

Barbieri has been using her own money for the project, but many friends and complete strangers have offered donations to support her. Barbieri believes her requests may soon soar, based on the high interest on social media. So, she is working on setting up an account to help cover the costs. She plans to donate any extra money to a coronavirus relief fund or to the hospital.

For those who have family or friends at Lowell General Hospital and wish to send them photos, email Barbieri at PicturesForPatients@lowellgeneral.org.

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