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Northwell nurses give COVID-19 patients a better view of their caregivers

Project Unseen Heroes was created by two nurse specialists for Cohen Children's Medical Center. It makes picture badges for nurses and doctors so that patients can seeing the smiling face behind the personal protection equipment.  Credit: Newsday staff; Photo credit: Northwell Health

Two nurses in the Northwell Health System thought it would be helpful for patients to see who was behind the masks that partially obscured the faces of doctors and nurses taking care of them.

Lulette Infante, an ambulatory nurse specialist and nurse administrator for pediatric services at Northwell, said she was inspired by the example of a respiratory therapist in San Diego, Robertino Rodriguez, who posted on social media a large photo of himself taped to his personal protective equipment.

"I thought that was such an amazing idea that we could adopt at Northwell," said Infante, who is based at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, and also works at other pediatric sites in the Northwell system.

Infante shared that idea with a colleague, Antonella Farrell, sickle cell nurse coordinator at Cohen Children's Medical Center, while recovering at home in March from COVID-19.

"When this pandemic started, we both wanted to help," Infante said. "And we wanted to help the front-line [workers] and support them as much as we can. Unfortunately, I was one of the first people who got sick in the beginning of March. I was home in isolation."

She has since recovered.

Infante said she became further convinced that enabling patients to see the faces of the medical workers caring for them was a worthwhile endeavor after reading an op-ed article in early April in The New York Times by Dr. Charles Schleien, chair of pediatrics at the Barbara & Donald Zucker School of Medicine of Hofstra/Northwell and senior vice president and chair of Pediatric Services and Cohen Children’s Medical Center, where he detailed his own battle with COVID-19.

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Dr. Schleien wrote: "My caretakers were amazing, though I don’t know what any of them look like; they were always masked when I saw them."

Infante said, "When I saw that, I said, 'you know that's really one thing I felt … that has to be addressed,' " to show the "compassionate caregiver" on the other side of all that personal protection equipment.

"I was talking to Lulette while she was home and sick," Farrell said.

Infante reached out to the hospitals' leadership and got the green light "within two days. Everything was ordered," Farrell said.

Project Unseen Heroes, the photo badge idea, soon emerged.

Farrell said hospital leadership at Long Island Jewish and the Cohen Children's Medical Center were supportive and the word went out among staff at both hospitals, through hospital newsletters as well as an Instagram page.

The program is in its third week, Infante said, and has gotten a "tremendous response." She said a nurse shared with her that when she went into the room of a patient, this time wearing her photo on her PPE, the patient said, "Oh that's what you look like."

"They're all smiley, friendly faces, showing everyone's personality," Farrell said of the staff photos. "Walking into an ER sick as a child, I can't even imagine what they feel like, seeing everyone all geared up. And as an adult, I can't imagine it's much better, being scared and hearing everyone getting so sick and passing away. I think we thought this would … ease their minds a little. They see a friendly face. They see everyone's eyes … It's always helpful to see the person that is caring for you."

Infante hopes other hospitals will adopt the practice.

"Everybody is going to be wearing masks now. So I feel it's really something nice to see," she said of the staff photos. "I hope everybody will try to adopt it and be able to connect with their patients."

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