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Backus Hospital OT fills bags with games and love

May 13, 2020

Gwen Rice is in the business of helping people. As an occupational therapist at the Backus Outpatient Care Center in Norwich, she works daily to improve the quality of life for her patients. When COVID-19 hit, Rice rallied her co-workers and her social media following to help patients affected by the pandemic.

As the virus started to spread across the state, Rice was selected to be part of the team of Hartford HealthCare employees who could possibly redeploy to the field hospital at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. Upon hearing the news Rice admitted to be being scared but decided it was better to turn her nervous energy into something positive. So, she came up with the idea to create leisure bags filled with items that could help isolated COVID patients.

As an occupational therapist Rice looks at ways to help people participate better in everyday life leisure and self-care. She said patients in isolation can become depressed, lonely and bored and so it was important to her to find items that could help patients, who are well enough, occupy themselves with activities, games and small projects. Each bag included a structured task, a creative task, and a directional task along with the tools to complete them.

“Engaging cognitive and leisure skills are important elements in healing,” she said.

When Rice isn’t helping patients at work she is helping to rescue birds and small mammals as the founder of a local non-profit animal rescue organization. Rice has a large fan base on social media and decided to see if her supporters would also help support COVID patients. She posted her idea on Facebook and her first message quickly received over 15,000 views.

In a matter of days Rice was able to set up eight donations sites, raise over $1,200 and collected a myriad of items for the bags include crossword and Suduko puzzles, paper, markers, pencils and playing cards.

“It’s a small thing, but it means a lot,” she said.

Rice and her team of volunteers were able to assemble 350 bags that have been distributed to Backus Hospital, Windham Hospital, Hartford Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford, the Hospital for Special Care as well as skilled nursing facilities in the northwest region of the state. Rice said she plans to assemble about 30 more bags because she has continued to receive donations.

“I am floored by the amount of people willing to donate or help. People want to be a part of this.”