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In COVID-19 care units, nurses create ‘heartbeat memorials’ to help families remember loved ones

A group of M Health Fairview nurses, led by Laura Triplett, are sending electrocardiogram strips and heartfelt messages to families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
M Health Fairview Registered Nurse Laura Triplett holds a small glass bottle containing an ECG printout strip. Triplett and other care providers at M Health Fairview and Bethesda and St. Joseph’s Hospitals give the strips to families as a memorial.

A group of M Health Fairview nurses are using electrocardiogram (ECG) printout strips of heartbeats to help families heal following the loss of a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This spring, M Health Fairview Registered Nurse Laura Triplett and other M Health Fairview care providers began placing the ECG strips – which chart the heart’s electrical signals – in small bottles that are sent to family members, along with a card filled with notes from caregivers.

“I chose the strip because it is a symbol of life,” said Triplett, who organized the effort. “It’s a simple, commonplace item and yet it can be so powerful and meaningful to loved ones. It is also small enough to display, pack away, or keep with you at all times.

“The strips hold a sign of life, a life that once was,” said Triplett. “It’s a way to remember someone. It’s showing the heart of a person.”

The heartbeat memorials are being given to the families of COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) patients at M Health Fairview Bethesda Hospital, where Triplett works, and M Health Fairview St. Joseph’s Hospital. Bethesda Hospital was converted into Minnesota’s first dedicated COVID-19 care facility in late March, and a COVID-19 care unit opened in St. Joseph’s Hospital in early May.

Triplett is a former Hospice nurse, and her experience in that setting has informed her current work and the relationships she builds with families. She and her colleagues hope the gesture will encourage emotional healing at a time when COVID-19 visitor restrictions mean that not all family members are able to be bedside during a person’s final moments. The restrictions were put into place at M Health Fairview facilities in March to protect patients and hospital staff and prevent the spread of the virus.

“Our care teams understand that our COVID-19 safety precautions, while necessary, can be challenging for patients and families,” said Maria Raines, vice president and chief nursing officer at Bethesda Hospital. “We want the people under our care to feel as connected as possible during such a difficult time.”

To help families communicate, M Health Fairview staff also place donated iPads in patients’ rooms. This enables family members to be present via webcam and hold conversations with those in the room.

“This small act of kindness and love is so important,” Triplett said. “Not only for the families, but also for the staff members who are caring for the patients.”