By: Dawn Brand Fluhler—
Muncie, IN—In the very near future, if you visit the Emergency Department at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, you will likely see a Starlight Fun Center entertaining a child who is waiting to be seen or waiting with a family member.
What is a Starlight Fun Center? It’s portable gaming system on a rolling tower with a large display and control pad that provides entertainment and distraction for children who visit the Emergency Department.
“The gaming center provides an outlet for children to feel comfortable in the hospital,” said Natasha Thompson a Family Nurse Practitioner in the Ball Emergency Department. “We are aware that the hospital can be a scary place for children. The Starlight Fun Center provides a great first step for the children and families to feel comfortable while in the Emergency Department.”
The Starlight Fun Center is personal to Thompson, who “made sure the system worked properly” after taking it out of the refrigerator-size shipping box. In fact, she applied for the system from the Starlight Children’s Foundation late in 2015 – a full two years ago.
With a background in caring for pediatric patients beginning as a student nurse at Riley at IU Health in 2011, the 2007 Wapahani High School graduate was immediately drawn to providing compassionate care for children – deaf and diabetic children especially.
She spent two semesters of nursing clinicals while working toward her BSN at the Indiana School for the Deaf, and continued to work there PRN until 2015. Today, she continues working on fluency in American Sign Language. She has also volunteered one week of each of the last two summers working with pediatric Type 1 diabetics at the Indiana Diabetes Youth Foundation Summer Camp.
“Working at Riley taught me compassion, understanding, and provided opportunities to work with children to help them experience the hospital in an individualized environment.” Thompson said.
Her passion runs deep. Having continued her nursing education to obtain her family nurse practitioner certification and working in the Emergency Departments at both Riley and Ball, the Starlight Fun Center is not the first pediatric win from the Starlight Children’s Foundation for Thompson – though arguably, it’s probably the most fun for the kids (and for her).
The Starlight Children’s Foundation has awarded Radio Flyer wagons, markers, puppets, paint kits, color by numbers kits, and wands for the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Emergency Department. Simply put, these items make children’s stays a little easier on them, their caregivers and the Emergency Department team.
The Starlight Children’s Foundation (starlight.org) mission is to “turn children’s pain, fear, and stress into laughter, fun, and joy by providing seriously ill children the best in entertainment, education and one-of-a-kind experiences- because sick kids are still kids.” It serves more than 700 children’s hospitals and community health partners across the US, and has brought smiles to US, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom. The Foundation’s Leading Sponsors include Radio Flyer, Disney, Nintendo, Michael’s, Niagara Water, Colgate-Palmolive, and more.
“Our job in the ED is to be the front door for the hospital,” Thompson said, “and we have a responsibility to let the community know that we want to provide the best care and comfort for children and adults.”
Also under Thompson’s lead, the ED now has a Comfort Cart that contains “busy boxes” for kids to play with while they are patients. They contain infant soothers, toys for little and big kids, colorful bandages, fun ways to help kids drink fluids when needed and more. She said these busy boxes help keep kids safely active and busy without disrupting I.V. placement. And the Comfort Cart is complete with age-based recommendations and instructions.
In case it isn’t clear yet, this nurse practitioner cares very deeply about connecting with her patients – and her work toward making their ED stay better is not done yet. Her wish list has a number of items on it, however at the top of that list is an iPad “because iPads provide a portable form of the Fun Center that can be taken into the rooms of more ill patients to help with distraction, entertainment, and education as young patients are cared for in our emergency department.”
Notwithstanding the wish list and the Starlight Fun Center, other pediatric amenities and care initiatives have been integrated in to Emergency Department Care. The ED team has been trained in comfort holds, which provide secure, hug-type holding techniques for children to feel safe and comforted during procedures. Arm boards were added to allow a secure upgrade to I.V. coverings while still allowing accessibility for caregivers and a comfortable dressing for the children.
How and why does Thompson connect so easily with youngsters? “Children have the opportunity to teach us so much about ourselves,” she said. “I enjoy making the hospital a better experience for children. And since I am on the shorter side, children seem to not find me intimidating.”
Check out the photo above. When she says she’s on the shorter side, she’s serious. Her feet don’t even touch the ground when she’s sitting in a standard office chair.
Natasha Thompson, FNP-C, is married and the mother of two children, ages 4 and 15. Even though she lives in Noblesville, she makes the drive to Muncie for work because she enjoys working with patients and the team here.