In the halls of a San Antonio hospital, Northeast Baptist, there is a robot roaming the Covid-19 wing. Since the lockdown in April, visitors have been restricted from being with their loved ones, due to the “no visitation” mandate in hospitals all over the world. Roman the Robot, however, was created to not only allow communication between patients and their loved ones, it also protects the medical staff from the virus.
Hospital Chaplain Daniel Hall was heartbroken that Covid-19 patients were not only dying from the virus, but also that they were dying alone. He spent many hours comforting bereaved families, who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, when an idea came to him. He bought a remote-control car, attached a selfie stick to it, and put a cellphone at the top. He went to the Covid-19 wing and drove the device from room to room. He conducted a Zoom call for each patient and their family members so they could see and talk to each other (sanitizing Roman after each room). He named the device “Roman” from the Bible verse, Romans 10:13.
Photo: Daniel Hall
“We have seen patients die alone in the hospital with their families separated with only a phone call from the hospital saying, ‘I’m sorry, despite our best efforts your loved one has died.’ It is a nightmare we have all been living through. The nursing staff is overwhelmed, and they don’t have time to hold a phone so each patient can say goodbye to their loved ones. I told a fellow nurse, ‘I don’t like this, I am going to make a remote-control car with Zoom capabilities so that you all can continue in your work,’” Hall said.
Roman has helped the hospital in many ways. It has lessened the burden on the nurses, given families the opportunity for a real goodbye, and has protected staff from the virus by allowing them to stay distant from each patient. The calls, however, were not limited to goodbyes. Some calls included shared feelings, encouragement, and reducing stress through familiar support. Over a two-month period, Roman was used by over 450 virtual visitors.
Roman was so widely praised that the neighboring hospital, Mission Trails Baptist, asked and received a Roman for their Covid-19 wing. Hall hopes that the little robot will continue to benefit the medical community during the pandemic and provide families with the gift of goodbye.