It’s not uncommon to see photos or footage of celebrities, athletes or representatives of organizations visiting children in the hospital. The special guests go to meet with the young patients, deliver toys and other gifts or make donations to the hospital. Whether the visits are high profile or low key, they all must follow hospital rules designed to protect the patients. If a child or a child’s family don’t want to take part in the visits, their wishes are followed.
“We (Public Affairs) have to walk a really fine line and we don’t ever want to cross it,” said Jennifer Hospodor, Assistant Director of Community Affairs, Children’s Programs at Batson Children’s Hospital, the only one of its kind in the state. “The patient’s and family’s wishes are always our main concern.”
Batson rarely recruits visitors, Hospodor said, maybe once a year, if say a top athlete was coming to Jackson. “Most of the time we get contacted by a team but sometimes our staff and faculty know somebody who knows somebody,” she said. “That happens more than you would think.”
Recent visitors have included the new Miss Mississippi, Jasmine Murray, who made her first official visit after being crowned to Batson. Football players from Mississippi State and Ole Miss are regularly yearly visitors.
Hospodor said Batson has hosted everyone from high school football teams and cheerleaders to Miss America. “Our visitors run the gamut. We get lots of sports figures and some rock music stars. I would say one or two big time celebrities a year.”
During one of Eli Manning’s visits, he spoke with a young man who’d just sustained an athletic injury. “That young man was no longer the teenager in a cast, he was an athlete talking to another athlete, and a famous one at that,” said Michelle Revord, Batson’s director of Pediatric Education Services.
When a visit is scheduled, hospital personnel go to each of the four patient floors, telling patients about the special guest and asking if they want to visit. “It’s totally up to them whether they want to have visitors,” Hospodor said.
The celebrity visits liven up the hospital routine and change the atmosphere.
“It puts a little buzz on the floor. Even the nursing staff and doctors get excited because they know it will get the kids excited before and after the visit,” Hospodor said.
“It’s not simply about an individual or group coming to visit, it’s about healing, distractions, lessening anxiety and most importantly having fun,” said Revord. “Parents see the smiles on their children’s faces and that brings joy. The hospital is suddenly not so scary after all — for a little while anyway.”
Batson has about 150 beds not including nurseries and has an average patient count of 100. There is an activity room on each patient floor, a “safe” zone just for fun and never any treatment. “If visitors bring gifts or photos to sign we ask them to bring 120 just to be sure everybody gets one,” Hospodor said.
If photos are going to be taken during a visit, the hospital gets HIPAA consent forms signed by the patient’s family beforehand.
Hospodor said with rare exception visitors have only one goal — to brighten the patient’s day – and they put in a good bit of effort to meet with the children and their families. “It’s a long visit,” she said. “They spend time in each floor’s activity room or go room to room. We don’t take visitors to one floor. They go to every floor, and sometimes stay longer in one room than they’re supposed to.”
Some visitors are even willing to skip publicizing their appearances. “We’ve had groups come in and didn’t want coverage,” Hospodor said. “They said if you want to call the media, that’s fine. Then we make the judgment call. It’s important for us to get the story of the hospital out so sometimes we do decide to send a media alert out.”
Groups who raise funds for the hospital are encouraged to visit so they can see firsthand what their efforts are helping with. “It really makes a difference to be here and see what’s going on. It’s a totally different atmosphere and if you get them to see that, it makes raising money that much easier for them.”
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