Smile Project Helps Ease COVID-19 Patients - VA Palo Alto Health Care System
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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


Smile Project Helps Ease COVID-19 Patients

VAPAHCS staff participating in the smile project

A photo of staff smiling can provide comfort and reassurance to our Veterans while receiving care at VAPAHCS.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

VA Palo Alto Health Care System recently piloted a Smile Project to help put smiles to the hidden faces of frontline health care workers as they wear mandated personal protective equipment (PPE). The program is being piloted on units designated for COVID-19 treatment, where staff must put on PPE from head-to-toe.

The project is a collaboration between Specialty and Hospital Based Services and the Veteran and Family Advisory Council (VFAC) who collected photos of staff giving their best smile and created “smile badges” to place outside of their PPE. The reception has been overwhelming as Veterans are now able to put a smiling face to the person who is providing their care.

“A simple photo of the frontline staff smiling can provide some comfort and reassurance to our Veterans while receiving care at VAPAHCS,” said Aileen Naungayan, the Acting Chief Nurse for Specialty and Hospital Based Services, who helped to spearhead the project.

VFAC is made up of Veterans and family members of Veterans who volunteer their time to help to make sure Veteran feedback is always included in VAPAHCS projects. Their collaboration helped to ensure the team was on the right track with the project by including multiple Veteran and Family perspectives in the design.

“The council became aware of these types of initiatives in other hospitals and we knew we needed to do that here in Palo Alto. A project like this aligns with the Patient Centered approach we take to health care, providing empathetic personalized care to every Veteran,” said Travis W. Runnels, who serves as Program Manager for Veteran and Family Centered Care and is also a U.S. Army Veteran.

With the success of the project in the initial units, the project was greenlighted to make its way to other clinical areas. This timely move comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are beginning to update PPE recommendations in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases around the country.

“This project is so important at this time because even just a smile can help to ease a Veteran facing feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic,” said Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, Director of VAPAHCS and U.S. Army Veteran.


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