AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Child life assistants, who help kids battling some of the most serious diseases, have been eliminated at Dell Children's Medical Center.
"We compared ourselves to 36 other top children's hospitals in the country, and what we found was that we had about four times as many child life assistants," explains Deb Brown, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief operating officer at Dell Children's. "We said how can we reorganize the department, still provide the high-quality service to the children and their families, without disrupting anything."
Ashley Briones' son Chuy was diagnosed with cancer in December 2016 and receives chemotherapy at Dell Children's Medical Center every two weeks. She learned a week ago that Chuy's assistant was let go. "When your kids are sitting there and they're just like, 'oh I want to do this, I want to do that' and you kind of don't know what to tell them," says Briones. She says she didn't see any volunteers last week.
The hospital will not say how many assistants were let go, but they say every unit still has a child life specialist. Specialists work above assistants and most have a master's degree and are pediatric development specialists. A child life assistant may have a bachelor's degree and helps entertain children, for example by bringing them games, when they're undergoing treatment. The hospital has replaced the assistants with volunteers.
Briones says her son's assistant would come in and offer to play games with Chuy, but she's more concerned about the younger children who are missing out on assistants. "All the kids see is doctor, nurse, doctor, nurse, and they don't know what's going on. You kind of have to keep them busy, if not they're just lying there."
Dell Children's says some child life specialists now oversee more than one unit. If needed, nurses and clinical assistants can help volunteers find games and keep the children entertained. Child life volunteer staff help maintain the play rooms within the hospital.
Chuy's family has set up a gofundme page to help with expenses as the teen battles cancer.