Museum, hospital partner on program for child patients

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The WeGo robot enables pediatric patients to tour cultural institutions remotely. (Photo: Strong Museum)

Pediatric patients at Golisano Children’s Hospital soon will get the opportunity to explore the Strong National Museum of Play from their hospital beds.

The hospital and the museum have partnered with the WeGo Foundation that links children’s hospitals with cultural institutions across the country, allowing patients to experience the institutions in real time with a mobile robot. Strong is the first museum in New York to join the network.

“Strong has invested in a robot for children to be able to see and interact with all of our exhibits directly from their hospital bed,” says Sara Poe, vice president of marketing and communication at Strong. “We will be hooking up with different hospitals across the WeGo network to offer this to children across the country.”

After a six-month process, Strong finally received the robot three months ago. The museum has been training staff to create tours for different age groups and piecing together content based on children’s interests. WeGo works closely with child-life specialists at each hospital to understand those interests, matching them with the appropriate cultural institution. 

“Our child-life teams are always looking for ways for kids to get to leave the four walls of their hospital and do kid things and they are really excited about this opportunity to offer more things to our patients at Strong,” says Heather Reyes M.D., a faculty member at the URMC Health Lab. 

The mobile robot can travel to each cultural institution within the WeGo network, bringing kids to different exhibits. Additionally, children are able to see, hear and talk to other museum goers, much like a physical visit.

“The child actually drives the robot, so they are in total and complete control,” Poe says. “It does help to have the guide with them to point them in the right direction in certain areas.”

Golisano is the 14th children’s hospital in the country to join the WeGo network. The decision was an easy one, Reyes says.

“It’s a great way to get kids outside of the four walls of their hospital rooms, especially during a pandemic, when leaving the hospital room is even harder than it used to be,” she says. “It lets kids be kids, they can go and explore not just things on their own back door but across the country.”

The opportunity for pediatric patients to visit the museum from their hospital bed does not end with Strong. There are other cultural institutions across the country that are open to visitors from Rochester. For example, they can choose from the Strong, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md., and the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. Each experience is open to children and their families. The museums have invested in the technology, Reyes says patients and their families can visit these sites at no cost.

Strong expects to reserve the second Wednesday of each month until the end of the year for these virtual tours. Plans are in place to increase that to two days a month starting next year.

“It really has to be the right patient and it has to fit in their treatment cycle appropriately, so it’s going to be a demand issue. We’ll see how much demand there is; if they can schedule us more, we’ll defiantly make time for it,” Poe says. 

“We certainly hope that others join (the network). The more the merrier. It’s a great way for these children to experience any cultural institution, so we’re hoping more (will join). We’re sort of the first from both the museum side and the hospital side in this area to join that.”

Kelsey Braun is a senior at St. John Fisher College.

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