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Sensory friendly waiting room officially opens

Children in the sensory-friendly room at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow during the official opening on Friday, June 24. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – On Friday afternoon, June 24, the new sensory room was unveiled at the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow hospital. The room is available for those individuals with sensory needs, so they are able to be in a quiet and comfortable environment while at the hospital waiting for an appointment.

The room began as an idea from the group, Autism Involves Me (AIM), and Dr. Dave Thomas, Chief of Staff of the Rural South region of Western Health, which includes the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre, said this move is a positive step forward for healthcare in the region.

“This is a good news day for healthcare in our region. It’s a small step toward marking us more inclusive and a more comfortable place to come to get healthcare. Sometimes, even when healthcare is good, efficient, and safe, it’s not always comfortable. It’s quite anxiety provoking, the unknowns make us uncomfortable and feel more unwell, even though we think we are doing a good job to take care of you.”

Thomas said the idea for this room was initially brought up a few years ago.

“We started this prior to COVID starting. We started in 2019. The group (AIM) brought the idea of having a sensory room at the hospital. Sensory rooms have been around for awhile. There are hospitals not in Newfoundland that certainly have these spots. As far as we know we are the first in Newfoundland to have it.”

Joan Chaisson, Consultant for Parents of Children with Autism with AIM, said this room is a milestone.

“As far as I know, when we started this, we are the first hospital on the island to have such a detailed sensory room. We tried to look, in the beginning, to see what we would need to put in a sensory room at a hospital, and there was nothing there for us to follow. So, as we always do, we made up our own.”

Chaisson added a thank you to Valerie Francis, the parent who first brought the idea to AIM.

“Valerie is also an LPN here at the hospital. She sees both sides of the story. She knows what it’s like to come as a parent, and her son is used to coming to the hospital because this is her workplace, but he shows the same types of anxiety as anyone else would. Then she sees all the other people, not just children, but adults too, coming and having great deals of anxiety, great deals of sensory challenges. Because the sensory challenges, when you’re into the general reading room out there – the auditory, the visual, the smelling – especially if you have children there in Pampers, it just throws people off who have sensory challenges. So by the time they go in to see a doctor, they have already had a meltdown. They’re to their limit. They can’t go any further.”

Chaisson said this room is just as important for employees.

“If they need to come, because we don’t realize what they go through, the employees, they have many deaths that we don’t hear of, they have many struggles here at the hospital that none of us can even start to dream of, so this room is a place they can come. They can sit for a few minutes, and compose themselves again, listen to music, whatever they want, and go back to work with a much more energetic mind.”

Thomas said there were quite a few hurdles to tackle before the room was started.

“When they brought it to us, we had to make it work with all the policies of the hospital, the cleaning policies in particular, infectious disease policies and how we do our regular work safely. So there were a few barriers we had to overcome there, but we worked with the group probably for four to six months and made sure we had everything in a row, got the room done with all the changes that they wanted, and then March of 2020 happened. We were going to open and then, all of a sudden, everything shut down. COVID-19 got in the way a little bit and we couldn’t open up safely. Luckily we’re at the point now where we can finally open it up and have it.”

The cost of the room wasn’t significant, but it did take time.

“It wasn’t too bad. There was a bit of changing that we had to do. All the ceilings had to change and come down. We had to case in the heaters and make them look nice. The mural was the biggest piece of work and, of course, that wasn’t a terribly expensive piece. Alex LeRiche, an amazing local artist. He did the mural and that took quite some time, but from an actual dollars amount, no, it wasn’t a lot. It’s certainly something that could be done in other places for relatively cheap,” said Thomas.

Thomas said there will be instances where additional training may be required for staff.

“I would say more awareness than anything, that not everyone senses things the same way and the way we communicate and the way we set up expectations. So, yes, some education, but mainly awareness. Stuff that we do anyway but we need to get better at.”

Thomas said the room was used multiple times before the official opening, and he hopes it will continue to get more and more use.

“It’s part of a whole process that we are working on with the Autism Involves Me group to make sure that we provide the entire encounter with individuals with sensory needs to be comfortable, so not only a nice, quiet place to be, but how we interact, how we communicate, how we prepare them for their interaction with the healthcare system.”

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