‘Buddy’s First Visit’

A class of Southern Tier Catholic School kindergarteners attends the “Buddy’s First Visit” program Wednesday at Olean General Hospital. Earlier this month, roughly 150 kindergarten students from STCS and the Washington West and East View elementary schools took part in the program with their favorite stuffed animals in an introduction to the hospital’s emergency department.

OLEAN — With their favorite stuffed animals in tow, kindergarteners from Olean’s elementary schools visited the Olean General Hospital emergency department for “Buddy’s First Visit” earlier this month.

Hosting the students from Washington West, East View and Southern Tier Catholic schools as part of its Community Connections program, Olean General’s goal was to show kids — with a little encouragement from their soft friends — that a trip to the hospital shouldn’t be scary.

“It was wonderful,” said Stephanie Timblin, a senior communications specialist with Upper Allegheny Health System, parent company of Olean General. “The kids are naturally very excited anyways, but the ambulance crews and the nurses and the doctors and all those things can be very overwhelming for somebody at that age. So to put a fun spin on it is really the purpose of the program.”

Roughly 150 kindergarteners attended in total, Timblin said. Breaking up the visits for individual classrooms on separate days, hospital staffers performed basic medical treatments such as taking blood pressures on the kids and their stuffies.

“THEY ADMINISTERED different breathing apparatuses on their buddy, they went over proper germ control and they got masks to put on their buddy,” said Southern Tier Catholic kindergarten teacher Nick Nenno, who attended with his 18 students June 10. “They also got bandaged and learned about using a backboard in places where movement should be limited.”

The experiences also included various general safety lessons, Timblin noted.

“Just things like wearing your bike helmet and how to avoid dog bites,” she added. “New this year, they actually brought a dog in for the kids to see and talked to them about the signs related to an aggressive dog versus a friendly dog. It was all the things your mom tells you.”

It was the second year for “Buddy’s First Visit” at OGH. Southern Tier Catholic School students were included for the first time.

Through the program, kids can also receive special coloring books and crayons during visits any time of year, Timblin said.

Washington West Principal Linda Nottingham applauded Upper Allegheny for its community engagement — particularly pertaining to young children.

“Olean City School District is absolutely blessed to have a local hospital that believes in educating its community,” Nottingham said. “Kids that haven’t experienced (an emergency visit) don’t know what to anticipate, so this lessens their fears. It’s well organized and very kid-friendly. Our students wouldn’t miss it, and our teachers absolutely love it.”

(Contact reporter Kelsey Boudin at kboudin@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)