Written by Patrick Jones
There is not much worse for a child than a traumatic visit to the hospital.
Often, they are uninformed about procedures, which leads to fear of what
might be happening to them. However, there are people who aim to bring
a bright light into their hospitalization. These healthcare professionals
bring the children the joy, knowledge and security they need while hospitalized.
One of Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s core values is service:
“We value service as our special ability to administer compassionate
health care and support to people in need of assistance.”
Gina Sievert, in her role as Torrance Memorial’s Child Life Specialist,
perfectly encapsulates that core Torrance Memorial value. Compassion and
a love for children drives Gina to succeed at comforting hospitalized
children, preparing them for procedures and teaching them how to manage
Gina describes her role as a Child Life Specialist as “a healthcare
professional whose main goal is to decrease the stress and anxiety experienced
in a hospital setting. I help our pediatric patients cope through play,
self-expression activities, education, and preparation.”
Her duties range from making a child more comfortable and entertained during
their hospitalization to preparing a child for a big surgery. She teaches
children how to express themselves by spending quality time with them
and providing them a safe space to play and cope with the stress of being
in a hospital.
To accomplish this goal, she manages a playroom in the Pediatric unit that
houses a child’s dream play place with all different kinds of toys,
games, electronics and crafts to keep them occupied. Any child housed
in the unit is welcome to play unless it is unsafe to do so.
As an added bonus to Torrance Memorial staff, Gina also manages a daycare
center for sick children with mild illnesses called Torrance Loves Children
(TLC). TLC is available for staff and community members to have a trained
health care professional take care of their children when they are too
sick to go to school. Under the care of Gina and her team, children have
access to low-cost lunches, games, crafts, movies and a comfy bed for
naps. Prices for the general public are $4/hr and are as low as $1/hr
for Torrance Memorial employees.
Gina’s interests paved a path early on in her career as a Child-Life
Specialist. “[For] as long as I can remember, I have had a strong
desire to work with kids” said Gina.
During her college course in child development, the faculty brought in
a Child-Life Specialist to talk about their position. Since then, Gina
knew that was what she wanted to do.
“I am grateful to get paid to do something I love so much. When a
patient is told he or she can be discharged and they respond, ‘I
don’t want to go home, I want to stay’, I know my job was
done” said Gina.
One of the many ways she comforts her patients is with puppets like Zoey
(pictured above). Zoey has an IV and explains to kids about her life in
the hospital. She talks about how it can be scary, but fun and educational
too. Gina and Zoey help teach our pediatric patients that there is nothing
to be afraid of, giving them something to connect and relate to, while
focusing on getting better and staying healthy.
While fulfilling, there are still many challenging aspects to Gina’s
job as a Child Life Specialist. She often gets called to work with children
with terminally-ill parents.
“In the past, I have been in the position where the family didn’t
have the heart to disclose the bad news to the children and asked if I
could deliver it” said Gina.
COVID-19 has also been a challenge while performing her regular job duties.
Smiles and positive energy are extremely important for children. The limit
of wearing a facial covering prevents the important visual aspect of positive
energy to reach her patients.
Through this pandemic, Gina emphasizes the importance of making mental
health a number one priority.
“Whenever possible I encourage patients and parents to take mental
health seriously and start early. I encourage them to begin a practice
of daily gratitude, meditation, or deep breathing exercises” said Gina.
Gina has been a Child Life Specialist for over 30 years and has spent 25
of those years at Torrance Memorial. Her work for our pediatric patients
makes them much more comfortable in a hospital setting and help them find
ways to cope with the anxiety of needing medical care and staying healthy.