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Helping Spirits Rise

Scottish santa croppedNo one wants to be in the hospital, but being there during the holidays –- away from family and friends -– makes a difficult situation even harder.  That’s why staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania go out of their way to bring the holiday spirit into patient care units, in quite a unique way.

The Abrahamsohn Christmas & Easter Committee has brought the holiday spirit to HUP every year since 1895.  But, for the past 18 years, the group has sponsored a tree decorating contest as well. They supply the artificial evergreens as well as the $150 prize for each of the five units they deem the best. 

The activity has become a friendly competition among HUP’s 30+ patient units; indeed, over the years, themes and decorations have become more creative and the push to win a little stronger.

Although it’s officially a ‘tree decorating’ contest, the staff’s creativity often spreads throughout the entire unit.  One of this year’s winners,  “It’s a Small World,” celebrates the wide range of countries that  patients and staff come from. To illustrate this diversity, the staff put together a trip around the world … all within the confines of the the unit. The window of each patient room has a painted holiday scene from a different country.  One window shows Santa delivering toys in shorts and a tshirt to Australian boys and girls.  On another, Scotland’s Santa wears a kilt and plays a bagpipe… while the loch ness monster surfaces to hear the music.   In the Marshall Islands scene, Santa rises out of the ocean, carrying a tree!

Many units have used the decorations for patient education.  For example, the Neuro Intensive Care Unit used a Las Vegas theme to spread the message ‘Don’t Gamble with Your Health!’ Gold coins,  rolled up wads of ‘bills’ and playing cards with drawings of the brain and educational material decorated the tree. Two slot machines created with boxes and shiny paper were labeled Danger! and You Win! Each had corresponding photos in the slots of what can lead to a stroke (ie, bad eating habits) and ways to stay healthy, such as keeping blood pressure under control.

Silver 9 group shotCommunity outreach has also been part of this activity. This year, a unit that cares for patients with epilepsy created a camp scene -– complete with a campfire and roasting marshmallows –- based on two nurses who volunteer for Camp Achieve. This one-week summer camp allows children and teens with a primary diagnosis of epilepsy or a seizure disoder to do all the typical camp activities kids love, in a safe and friendly environment.  The unit planned to donate the $150 prize money to the Camp.  Another unit decided to help animals in shelters, holding a food, treat and toy drive for a local SPCA.  Hoping to help increase adoptions as well, the staff created animal ornaments, each of which contained a photo of, and information about, a cat or dog currently waiting at this SPCA for its “forever home.” So far more than 50 cats and dogs have been adopted!

Pulling together the decorations is something staff look forward to, a chance for fun in an environment that can be stressful.  And the results not only cheer up patients and families but help brighten the days for employees as well.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.


Top photo: It's a Small World celebrates the wide range of countries that  patients and staff come from. As part of its decorations, staff painted a holiday scene from a different country on the window of each patient room. On one, a Scottish Santa wears a kilt and plays a bagpipe… while the loch ness monster surfaces to hear the music. 

Bottom photo:  Camp wouldn't be complete without toasting marshmallows on a camp fire.  Staff from one of the patient units that won HUP's annual tree decorating contest decorated the entire family room as part of its Camp Achieve theme.

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