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When a toothbrush can make a patient cry with joy

Orderly Janice Kernohan hands a care kit filled with personal hygiene items to a patient in the Emergency Department.

Care kits boost morale and combat deconditioning among hospitalized patients

Sometimes, good things come in small packages. Just ask Janice Kernohan, an orderly in the Emergency Department at the Jewish General Hospital.

One day recently, a woman in her 30s was brought into Emergency with fractures caused by a car accident. Already shaken up, she was further upset because her husband was out of town and she had few personal belongings with her.

“I don’t even have a toothbrush,” she said, as she began to cry.

Orderly Janice Kernohan (left) and Humanization of Care Co-Chair Gabi Rosberger hold several care kits in the JGH Emergency Department. [1]
Orderly Janice Kernohan (left) and Humanization of Care Co-Chair Gabi Rosberger hold several care kits in the JGH Emergency Department.

Ms. Kernohan didn’t miss a beat. “I do,” she responded. She handed the woman a small bag filled with a toothbrush, soap, shampoo and other personal care items.

“She took it and began to cry even more,” Ms. Kernohan recalls. “She was so grateful. You would have thought that I gave her gold.”

In some ways, the items are gold. When patients are admitted unexpectedly to hospital, a kit with hygiene items can boost their morale and offer a measure of comfort and dignity. Ultimately, the kits contribute to improving the patient experience.

Ms. Kernohan was able to offer the items thanks to an initiative of the Humanization of Care Committee and The Auxiliary at the JGH. Last fall, after an appeal for donations on Facebook, volunteers collected thousands of mini-sized toiletries, from toothpaste to hair conditioner. More than 700 kits have been distributed across the hospital, to any department that needs them.

The project expands an initiative in Orthopedic Surgery and Geriatrics last year by nursing managers Emanuela Ciarlelli and Karine Lepage. Both identified the need for care kits among patients, particularly the elderly, and found that they helped build autonomy.

A similar philosophy underlies the expansion of the program. Gabi Rosberger, who led the project for the Humanization of Care Committee, says the kits have both practical and therapeutic benefits. Maintaining a care regime like brushing one’s hair or teeth means that patients have to get out of bed, go to the bathroom or sit in a chair.

“Patients can lose muscle strength in the hospital if they lie in bed every day,” says Ms. Rosberger, who was an Occupational Therapist at the JGH for several decades. “Self-care is an activity. It helps prevent deconditioning.”

It also helps maintain a routine during lengthy hospital stays. “A hospital is like Las Vegas; it’s 24 hours of the same thing and sometimes you don’t know if it’s day or night,” Ms. Rosberger says.

The care kits were especially useful during the COVID-19 crisis, when public-health restrictions meant that family members were unable to accompany their loved ones into the hospital and bring them their personal belongings.

The kits have received glowing reviews from managers. André Poitras, a Clinical Administrative Coordinator with our CIUSSS, says patients typically don’t have time to gather personal hygiene items when they arrive for a medical emergency.

“Once they’re stabilized and feeling better, what a comfort it is to receive this true gift. These are simple items but so much needed and appreciated,” says Mr. Poitras, who oversees the Emergency, Medical and Surgical Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Care Divisions. “The care kits have an impact both on patients and professionals.”

Valerie Schneidman, Nursing Coordinator in the Emergency Department, calls the care kits “a tremendous initiative.”

“Taking care of patients’ personal needs is so important to the patient experience. We are geared more to patients’ medical needs. The kits provide them with tender loving care.”

Do you have items to contribute to the care packages? Organizers welcome donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, travel-sized shampoos, soaps and other articles. Cash donations toward the purchase of the items are also appreciated. For information, contact Humanization of Care Committee Co-Chairs Gabi Rosberger at gabirosberger@gmail.com [2] or Rosemary Steinberg at roey22@gmail.com [3].