Health Care Employees Get Free Child Care from Medical Students

Students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine come together to give back to their educators.
Babysitter

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

School and daycare closures throughout the Pittsburgh area have left many parents worried about child care options during the pandemic. Thanks to students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, health care employees have a free resource to alleviate this anxiety.

Front-line workers can request a volunteer babysitter to come to their home through 412Med, a website created by the Pitt students. The network of more than 100 students has assisted 41 families with child care and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Sarah Minney, who just graduated from Pitt Medical school, says she and other medical students felt helpless when they were pulled from their hospital rotations in March.

“We really wanted to help them in some way, and we were limited in how we can help,” Minney says. “I, along with many other people, just wanted to do something to give back to the community that has given to us so much.”

Minney channeled her previous experience at Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery in East Liberty, to lead the child care branch of 412Med.

After connecting with other interested student volunteers, Minney spread the word to employees through a post on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Yammer channel, a workspace messaging forum. Health care workers in need of child care can request a babysitter here. Once matched, families can communicate with their volunteer directly to discuss the babysitter’s experience and the family’s specific needs.

Parents and volunteers have been following child care guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minney says. Wearing a mask as they work, students are also asked to only care for one family at a time, and cannot care for children showing symptoms of illness or if the caregiver themselves has symptoms. Minney prioritizes protecting student volunteers, but she says they have educational backgrounds that have prepared them for this experience.

“We understand the risk we’re undertaking by babysitting for health care workers,” Minney says. “We know how to operate in a sterile field.”

But some parents still worried about exposing volunteers. Minney says when she herself was an on-call babysitter for a family, the parents showed Minney where they would shower in a separate part of the house before interacting with the rest of the family. To further minimize risk, the parents taught their children to physically distance themselves for when Minney came over.

Minney says 412Med plans to continue its services even as more daycare facilities begin to reopen. Many parents and caretakers tell her they don’t feel comfortable sending children back to daycare yet. Additionally, some health care workers do not have close family or friends available to take care of their children, or even if they do, they may worry about exposing them to illness if family or friends are vulnerable.

The babysitters have helped a variety of employees, including physicians and nurses, in addition to nontraditional health care workers, such as those who work in a hospital cafeteria. Minney says it’s been rewarding to see the impact this work has on the community and to hear the gratitude from employees themselves.

“Families have just been really appreciative that this is a service they can call on,” Minney says.

Categories: The 412