Connecting during COVID-19

The isolation of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and other care facilities – and especially loss of bedside connections to family and friends – moved University of Guelph alumna Emmy Luo to improve their lives.

If hospital patients couldn’t meet family members face-to-face, she thought, they should at least be able to see their loved ones virtually.

Luo, who graduated this past spring with a bachelor of science degree, co-founded Frontline Connect Canada, a campaign to collect donated tablets and smartphones to help patients and their physicians communicate with families during the pandemic.

“A close friend and I started a GoFundMe campaign to donate personal protective equipment to our local hospitals and other health-care facilities after seeing the shortage in supplies,” Luo said. “I actually reached out to several of my past professors during our campaign, who were so supportive and willing to share or donate. I’m always so amazed by the sense of Gryphon community.”

Through that GoFundMe campaign, Luo connected with like-minded entrepreneurs and doctors who were passionate about making a difference during the pandemic.

This initiative has helped keep families united with their loved ones, whether it is in the emergency room or at the end of life.

Several of the doctors faced a new challenge caused by visitor restrictions. Normally, family members provide information about the patient, advocate for them and provide emotional support, she said.

“Obviously, this changed with COVID-19 infection control measures,” she said. “These doctors had to use their own phones to call family members or put family members on FaceTime so they could speak with their loved ones before they were intubated. As such, our group came up with a way to use donated devices and virtual communication apps like Zoom.”

With her own plans disrupted by the pandemic, Luo used her time to do something that could truly help the community.

“I loved this project because it’s such a simple solution to a huge need,” she said. “If I can use Zoom to attend my university lectures online, why can’t patients and physicians do that to connect with families?

“I imagine it must be an amazing feeling for patients and their family members to stay connected, even though they can’t be there in person. This initiative has helped keep families connected with their loved ones, whether it is in the emergency room or at the end of life. It’s been so rewarding to be a part of it.”

As of midsummer, about 300 donated devices had been placed in four hospitals and 63 other care facilities, all free of charge.

“We are continuing to work hard to collect donated devices and connect them with other care facilities in need, with no plans to stop anytime soon,” Luo added.