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Who’s Caring for the Families of the People Caring for Your Families?

After Lubbers’s Google Doc proved to be an unsustainable system, she created an online form, where health-care workers who needed help and students willing to babysit could enter info about themselves into a database—where they lived, what hours they needed assistance or were available, what kind of assistance they needed or could provide. Lubbers included “petsitting” and “errands” as categories of available aid, but “really, people just needed child care,” she said. “Of the 90-some requests we fielded, there were, like, three for other services.”

The form went online on the afternoon of March 15, and it, too, was inundated by the next morning. Lubbers and another medical student got to work matching health-care workers with willing students; Lubbers said she was emailing, calling, and texting people for the next 13 hours straight. Making her job harder was the fact that a lot of health-care personnel needed child care right that minute: “A lot of in-home day cares were electively closing at that point,” she told me, “and it was really frustrating for providers that some of their normal babysitters and normal nannies were not willing anymore to watch their kids, because they’re kids of doctors who are going to go to a hospital,” and thus their household was at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. The form was closed a few days later, when the OSU medical center stepped in and offered to help match students with employees using the app Juggle. But before it closed, about 100 students had signed up to provide help, 91 parents had signed up to receive it, and 61 matches been arranged.

OSU’s grassroots effort isn’t the only one of its kind; similar ad hoc babysitting networks have sprung up at Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Minnesota, among other places. As of Monday, the group that has grown out of the University of Minnesota—known as MN CovidSitters—had approximately 300 volunteers, many (but not all) of whom are med-school or nursing students. MN CovidSitters, like OSU’s network, also offers pet care and errand-running, but has primarily been tasked with coordinating child care; unlike OSU’s network, in which parents and their sitters or helpers can negotiate pay individually, MN CovidSitters provides all services for free. The group is looking to expand to meet the ne of health-care workers statewide, and recently partnered with Clinician Nexus, an app often used by medical schools to manage students’ clinical rotations, to match families with volunteers. It has also begun accepting volunteer applications from any university students currently located in Minnesota, as long as they submit to a background check and are fully up-to-date on immunizations; applicants who are CPR-certified are strongly preferred.

Lubbers and student organizers from MN CovidSitters told me that the response from doctors has been positive overall. “We’ve gotten many letters of gratitude from our professors and mentors,”  said Sara Lederman, a 30-year-old second-year medical student and one of MN CovidSitters’ founders. Lubbers noted that having their kids cared for by a health-care student seemed to put a lot of health-care workers’ minds at ease. “There are a lot of doors you have to go through to become a medical student or nursing student,” she said, “and they knew a medical [or nursing] student would be vaccinated and have had a background check.”