Innovation During Crisis:

Sara Jacobson, the executive director of The Children’s Hospital VOLUNTEERS

The Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine


NOTE: The following is a transcript from a previously recorded video interview. Minor edits were made for brevity and an easier reading experience. 


The onset of COVID-19 has left many organizations in difficult situations where they had to change the way they handle their day-to-day processes. Many of the responses we’ve seen are the product of creative individuals and groups coming together to form innovative solutions. 


We were interested to hear how our district neighbor, the Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine, has adapted and innovated as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview, we met over Zoom with Sara Jacobson, the executive director of The Children’s Hospital VOLUNTEERS. 


This particular series, this program that we’re doing that you’re a part of, is called Innovation During Crisis, because we wanted to interview different entities and organizations to find out how they have innovated in response to a crisis, like COVID-19. There are others, but COVID-19 pandemic is what we wanted to ask you about today. It clearly is front and center in your world, and has been for the past few weeks and months, so we are very excited to have you with us. 


Q: When everyone was receiving the news about the COVID-19 pandemic, what was the reaction like internally, within your organizations? How did you come together, and what were the quick responses that you had in those first hours and days? 


A: In the first hours and days, I think just like everybody else in the world, we were reacting in real time and guidelines and news was changing pretty rapidly. I was actually in Denver with a group of colleagues. We were on a visit to Colorado Children’s to look at some of their innovation programs in their zone, and the way that they play and use technology. That program visit got cut short because their hospital limited visitation from outside guests. When I got back to Oklahoma, that’s exactly what was happening at Children’s and at OU Medicine. 

The first things that we were doing were really looking at securing the environment, making sure that the folks who came in had screenings and that, for our families was really challenging because typically mom and dad, and brother and grandma, and everybody can come and visit, and help support that child who’s in the hospital, and give a little respite to the parent who’s there. Right now, we have continued to be on a single caregiver visitation restriction, and so that is a challenge for our families. They only have that one person at bedside. 

We knew immediately that we really would need to rely on technology to make sure our families could connect, could still see siblings, could still share important medical information with spouses or caregivers. For me, for our programs, that meant that we had to call off our volunteers. We have about 300 volunteers here full-time, and they help carry a huge load for us in terms of patient visits and event set up, and all the prep work to create activity kits in the background. Our volunteers are incredible, and we also have about 1,500 community visitors that come through groups like the Junior League or businesses like Bob Moore Auto Group, so those groups come in periodically and host events. We knew that cutting off our volunteers and our special event groups was going to be a pretty big challenge. That was one of the first things we faced. 


Q: Who was it then that came together with you, externally, to come up with these new technologies, to support families seeing and being with their children? Were there outside resources that came together with you all to partner on coming up with these solutions? 


A: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of support from outside. Groups offering what we need, just checking in and seeing how they can help. Obviously, people want to come in and help, but that’s the one thing that we can’t do right now. 

What’s been nice is we’re part of a collaborative, so again, we were at Colorado Children’s. We have a network of organizations that are all funded and supported through Teammates for Kids, and so I’m sitting in the zone. This is our play and learning space that has also become storage ground for donations to the hospital right now. We’re hoping to collect masks and sanitizer, and other person protective equipment that the hospital needs right now. We’re doing a little combination here. Since we aren’t a playroom right now, we’re a storage ground for those items, but we reach out to all the other folks that have zones, and we’re still in close contact with them. 

There’s one that’s actually in New York, and so they were able to share pretty quickly the immediate changes that they were making in terms of play and activity, how they were keeping their kids and families safe, but how are they trying to continue to run the programs as normal as possible. We got a lot of great information from experts across the country, who were in the same boat as us. That was first thing, to make sure that we’re within that network, able to follow the best practice. 

Obviously, as guidelines and precautions have changed, and just the knowledge of what COVID-19 does has changed in our awareness of it, and the medical community being able to reach out to colleagues in Seattle, or in Nashville, or Florida, across the country, that’s been really, really nice. 

Our physicians, obviously, are doing the same things. They’re getting the expertise that they need from sources across the country, and so that was first thing, just to make sure we knew what we needed to be doing so that we could follow best practice. Locally, we’ve been able to work with a number of different organizations. 

I know the Love Innovation Hub, down in Norman, was one of the first ones who reached out to try to partner and help us to meet that PPE needThey’ve created a 3D print of a face shield, and then all you need are transparency sheets, so these can be used and reused over and over again. This piece can be cleaned and that’s been incredibly helpful. I think face shield was something that our medical team immediately knew that was going to be a huge benefit because obviously once you have it, you can reuse those. Transparency sheets, that’s a lot easier than throwing an entire device away. Given the supply chain challenge that we’ve had, that’s been a really great innovation. 

We’ve also had partners like Mathis Brothers that have re-tooled some of their manufacturing areas to completely be focused on making masks. That’s another group that we’ve really appreciated and partnered with. Then we have small partners for us, that are helping us to make sure we still have activity kits for kids. From the highly clinical, all the way to the bedside play pieces of it that we’ve found some partnerships. It’s been great. 

 To learn more about the Children’s Hospital Volunteers and to learn how you can support their mission, visit Stay tuned for the next part of this Innovations During Crisis interview where we continue to learn more about ways the Children’s Hospital has adapted during this time.   


Innovation During Crisis deadCenter Film Festival