When fourth-year University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine student Sarah Minney heard that volunteers were needed to help the community during the pandemic, she immediately knew what she could bring to the table.
Before medical school and part-time during, Sarah worked at Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, doctors, nurses and others were working overtime to help the people being treated for the virus and they needed help with their own children.
“I knew there would be a high demand for safe and reliable childcare for those on the front lines of the pandemic,” Sarah says. And with her medical rotations canceled and in-person classes moving online, she knew many of her peers would want to pitch in.
The students sign up to provide childcare either on a website called 412Med that Sarah and her peers created or through a site hosted by the Pitt School of Medicine. Parents log on to request childcare.
At last count, Sarah had rounded up 97 students to provide emergency childcare to 41 families at sites throughout the city and in the North Hills, South Hills and Fox Chapel.
They are Pitt medical, nursing and dental students, as well as undergrad and graduate research students.
All parties are taking precautions. Students fill out a survey to join the effort, and the CDC guidelines for childcare are listed at the top of the page. On the Parent Request Form, more guidelines are explained.
Sarah has been communicating via Slack with other med students around the country who are providing similar services. They’re sharing concerns, troubleshooting and discussing what works best.
“Ultimately, adults are much better able to follow CDC guidelines, hygiene protocols and physical distancing measures than children are, so it is less risky to care for children in smaller groups by a trusted adult than a large daycare center or school groups,” Sarah says.
The student effort impressed Ann E. Thompson, vice dean and professor at the Pitt School of Medicine.
“Their desire to help those providing patient care shows how much they recognize the challenges facing essential workers,” she says. “They clearly understand that it’s not just physicians and nurses who need help providing care for their children, but everyone working in the hospitals, many of whom have far fewer resources available.”
Some families need emergency on-call care if they get called in to work an extra shift. Others are now doing telemedicine from home now and need help watching their little ones who are home. Some are struggling to find replacements for their usual daycare centers, which are closed.
Sarah’s group is not charging a fee for the service, but some parents insist on paying. One volunteer is donating her compensation to other volunteers and local nonprofits.
Sarah is hoping for a more long-range initiative for health care workers. She and her team are writing letters to local and state representatives, hoping that systems-level help can be provided, allowing safe and reliable childcare for health care workers as we move forward.
In the meantime, the babysitting requests continue to pour in. Some volunteers view the activity as a much-needed time away from the alarming headlines.
“Being around these kids has been the most wonderful distraction,” says Katherine Lane, a medical student and volunteer babysitter. “They are also dealing with lots of change and uncertainty, but they are so resilient. It’s a joy to enter their world for a few hours.”
Pittwire is a news service of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Communications.