Torrance Memorial’s Pediatric Patients Benefit with a Child-Life Specialist
Written by Patrick Jones, Marketing Intern
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 in comforting hospitalized children, helping them prepare for what lies ahead -- whether it be an unknown procedure, hospital stay or other unexpected event-- all the while teaching them how to manage their fears.
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 hospital’s Pediatric unit that houses a child’s dream play place with all different kinds of toys, games, electronics and crafts guaranteed to keep them engaged. Any child housed in the unit is welcome to come by and play unless it is unsafe to do so.
As a 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 with a trained health care professional to 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/hour and are as low as $1/hour 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” says Gina.
During a college course in child development, the faculty brought in a child life specialist to talk about their position. From that day forward, Gina knew 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,” says 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 such as working 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,” says Gina.
COVID-19 has also been a challenge while performing her regular job duties. Smiles and positive energy are extremely important for children. The limitations of wearing a face mask have prevented the important visual aspect of positive energy to reach her patients.
Throughout the pandemic, Gina has continued to emphasize 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, having spent over 25 of those years at Torrance Memorial. Her work for our pediatric patients makes them much more comfortable in a hospital setting and helps them find ways to cope with the anxiety of needing medical care and staying healthy.