Rocky Mountain House Health Centre knows the soothing effect of a toy on a child waiting or receiving medical treatment.
Since late 2013, the Smile Makers for Sick Kids program has ensured children have a stuffed animal to squeeze or games to keep their hands and minds occupied, like puzzles, crosswords and sudoku books, colouring books and crayons, cards or small toys.
The program is in place in the hospital’s emergency and admitting departments, as well as the laboratory where children leave with bright-coloured, whimsical bandages.
Shirley Hope, site manager of the centre, said the toys, mostly dollar store items, do calm children.
“I think it helps them have something to do. I think it helps them feel welcomed and take some focus off of the illness,” Hope said.
Staff find that offering small goodies to kids can help break the ice and provide comfort, making it easier to assess and treat pediatric injuries and illnesses.
Smile Makers may not be needed depending on the length of the visit, but all children who go for lab work get something, she said.
Many families already bring electronic devices to the hospital so children can play video games.
“For a planned visit you would certainly bring things along, but a lot of what we’re seeing is not planned and wait times can be a challenge. A parent might have something to entertain for a short period of time. It is nicer to have some options.”
About 5,000 pediatric visits are made to the Rocky hospital annually.
Smile Makers grew from feedback from a patient’s family, who suggested the facility consider ways to be more child-friendly.
The suggestion was quickly adopted by the Ladies Auxiliary, which has always provided teddy bears.
The David Thompson Health Trust also funds for toys, games and activity booklets.
Hope said city hospitals with large pediatric wards run similar programs and do it quite well.
“We tried to implement this a couple times in the past, but didn’t have a system to keep the supplies updated. Now we’ve engaged a volunteer.”
Smile Makers is funded through donations and costs about $3,000 annually.
To donate to the Smile Makers for Sick Kids program, contact the David Thompson Health Trust.
The trust oversees the donation fund that includes money raised by the family who initiated the program.
“With sustained funding, it’s feeling sustainable this time,” Hope said.