Keepsakes Provide Meaning for Patient’s Families

To help families of patients who passed away cope with their loss during COVID-19, SVMHS staff had an idea: the Heartbeat in a Bottle.

One of the most heartwarming stories to emerge at SVMHS over the past two years is the way one act of nursing kindness has rapidly evolved into a common part of nursing practices throughout the hospital.

A Response to COVID-19 Restrictions

Heartbeat in a Bottle began in the COVID ICU as a way to ease the pain of families who lost a loved one but could not be present because of pandemic restrictions. “A traveling nurse suggested we give a copy of the EKG tracing to a patient’s family after the patient passed away,” says Frances Espino, BSN, RN, CCRN, chair of the Critical Care Practice Council. “I had heard of Heartbeat in a Bottle, and when a few days later someone else wanted to do something for all of our patients’ families, we discussed it at Practice Council and went forward from there.”

The group decided that they would place an EKG tracing in a tiny bottle with a cork stopper and a bow and present it to the family. “It touched me that when people received this gift, they would place it close to their heart,” Espino says. It grew into a collaborative effort. Unit clerks make up the bottles, while the nurses present the keepsakes to the families. All progressive care areas within critical care adopted the practice. Then, it began to spread throughout the hospital.

Beyond Critical Care

“We received a shared governance referral from a clinical educator, Charvelle Noble, BSN, RN, CMSRN, who suggested we make something for patients and families in the general care department,” says Anna Paz Mercado, BSN, RN, ONC, chair of the Med-Surg Cluster Practice Council.

Since heart monitoring is not typically part of general care, a council member suggested a thumbprint instead. After clearing the idea with risk management and doing research on the value of keepsakes for families of dying patients, the council designed its bottle, which includes an accompanying quote in English or Spanish, depending on the family’s first language.

The Med-Surg Practice Council also collaborated with the SVMHS Palliative Care team to create a sensitive, patient-centered protocol. “We never do this without asking the family first,” says  Mercado of obtaining the thumbprint.

The success of the initiative speaks to both the patient-centered approach of SVMHS nurses and the benefits of shared governance. “I love the way our shared governance process has allowed us to share these ideas back and forth,” Espino says. “We learn so much from each other.”

Nurses benefit, of course, but patients and families are the ultimate beneficiaries. “It is such a wonderful group effort that gives families closure during a difficult time,” Mercado says.

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