Vital connection for families

Joan MacPherson, a nurse in the MUSC Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive-care unit, operates an iPad near a newborn’s incubator so the mother can see her baby from her recovery room and communicate with staffers through the app, Google Hangouts.

A new iPad program at the MUSC Children’s Hospital is helping families stay connected when parents can’t be right at their children’s bedsides.

With two grants from Google totaling $82,120 over the past three years, the hospital has purchased 70 iPads loaded with Google Hangouts, an app for video chatting.

The first tablets were introduced in the Children’s Hospital last year so children who are hospitalized for extended periods of time can have virtual visits with family, friends and even teachers.

“We have a lot of kids who have long lengths of stay because they have chronic conditions ... so for those children to be able to stay in touch with their teachers and get their school assignments and stay in touch with family, the app is just wonderful,” said Pat Votava, director of government relations and grants at the Medical University of South Carolina, who worked with Google on the iPad grants.

The program was recently expanded to the neonatal intensive-care unit and the labor and delivery unit. Mothers recovering after delivery are now using the Hangouts app to connect with nurses in the NICU to see their babies and check on their progress.

“Right now, labor and delivery is on the fifth floor of the adult hospital, and the NICU is on the eighth floor of the Children’s Hospital, so for the mothers to be actually present in the same space as their babies has made such a difference to the mothers,” Votava said. “They can ask the nurses questions, and they actually get to see the baby.”

Lilyn Hester, Google’s public affairs manager for North Carolina and South Carolina, said the company awarded the grants to MUSC because it incorporated digital literacy training while improving inpatient care.

“It was a different use of technology to solve a problem,” she said. “When I went there for a demo, it was amazing to see how the mother and her child interacted. The child just perked up listening to the mother’s voice.”

Google offers grant programs in all of the communities where it operates. The Internet giant built a large data center near Moncks Corner in 2007, and since then, it has awarded schools and organizations in the Charleston area more than $1 million for various tech-oriented projects.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail