Medical students around the US are offering to babysit for hospital workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic

Mic Smith/AP PhotoMedical University of South Carolina healthcare providers dress in protective suiting as they get ready to see patients by the hospital’s drive-through tent for patients who are being tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus, March 13, 2020, in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Many healthcare workers are facing the strain of fighting the coronavirus at work while scrambling to figure out childcare for their children, as daycare facilities and schools shut down.
  • Students at medical schools like the University of Minnesota, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins have created student-led initiatives to offer voluntary babysitting services for those on the frontlines.
  • Business Insider talked to three different groups that are trying to connect healthcare workers that need childcare with student volunteers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Healthcare workers are risking their lives every day to fight the coronavirus. At the same time, they’re scrambling to figure out childcare as daycare facilities and schools close.

Enter medical students, who have begun to organise childcare services for healthcare workers who are either dealing with the pandemic directly or bracing for it to hit their local hospitals.

Stephen Conn, a medical student at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, started the COVID-19 Healthcare Workers Childcare Co-op last week.

The program, which is not affiliated with Conn’s school, takes applications from medical and college-level students from any urban area in the US to try and connect them with local healthcare workers. So far, they have had matches in cities including St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Conn works with 10 to 20 other volunteers who help out with tasks such as coding to automate the process and helping to spread word of the program across medical communities.

Hundreds of students are volunteering

“I recognised that there was a significant need for childcare amongst essential healthcare workers,” Conn said. “I also began to think about the level of trust that exists between faculty and med students because our networks are so tight and robust.”

Conn said that so far, he has received hundreds of applications from both healthcare families and student volunteers.

Londyn Robinson and Jillian Millares, third- and second-year medical students at the University of Minnesota, have also been organising efforts to provide childcare, pet sitting, and errand services for healthcare workers after the state temporarily closed schools.

Two of their classmates, Sara Lederman and Sruthi Shankar, created MN CovidSitters to provide childcare services to healthcare workers in different cities in Minnesota.

They, along with Robinson and Millares, are among the 15 or so students working on items like background checks and verifying immunization records.

But so far, most things are being done manually which makes the workload difficult to manage, Robinson said.

“We could really use some community partners when it comes with tech,” she said. “We don’t know how long COVID will be here and that’s our biggest need right now.”

Mitigating the spread of the virus

Robinson, who was on rotation in hospitals until last week, told Business Insider that as of Tuesday, they had almost 300 volunteers and around 185 families seeking services, though there are more sign-ups by the hour.

MN CovidSitters assigns each healthcare family a “pod” of two to three students to work out a schedule that works best for them. By arranging small groups like this, Robinson said, it mitigates the spread of the virus.

Around 18 other schools around the US – including Georgetown, the University of Washington, and the University of North Carolina – have reached out to MN CovidSitters to create similar programs, Robinson said.

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Rebecca Wieben, a nurse practitioner in St. Paul, Minnesota, said that she was reluctant to send her three kids, all between the ages of four and six, to the childcare offered to healthcare providers by St. Paul public schools, in case she unknowingly exposes her kids to the coronavirus and they spread it at daycare.

But she felt much more comfortable about the service MN CovidSitters was offering because it would offer a smaller-scale childcare option that would somewhat mitigate the spread of the virus.

“It was pretty stressful when it came down over the weekend that schools were closing. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do,” Wieben told Business Insider. “Then I saw that the U of M med students were putting out this service and I just thought ‘wow.’ I so appreciate them stepping up and offering help in such a wild time.”

College kids and high schoolers and are chipping in too

College kids and high schoolers are also trying to do their part.

Rioghan Pittock, a junior at Mayo high school in Rochester, Minnesota, and her sister Hannah, a senior at the University of Chicago, created Step Up to Sit, an ad hoc system to connect healthcare workers in Rochester to students in the area. The Mayo Clinic, one of the top hospitals in the US, is located in Rochester.

So far, 135 volunteers have signed up and 22 families have been matched with students, Hannah Pittock said.

“We were hoping anything is better than nothing,” Rioghan Pittock said. “But within the first 30 minutes we got 10 responses and then things snowballed.”

“Our goal was obviously to make sure there was childcare available for healthcare workers but another part of it is it can be tough for young people to feel unhelpful being at home,” Hannah Pittock said. “The platform is simple, the concept is simple, and it’s empowering young people to do their part. Nobody likes to feel helpless.”

If you’re a healthcare worker or a medical student and would like to share your experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, you can email the author at [email protected].

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