Solving computer problems for hospital patients and their familiesby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — Pat Lang didn't plan to be working on the road with her laptop when she ran to meet the ambulance that took her daughter to the hospital. Madigan, 12, had stopped breathing.
A month later she's still hooked up to a ventilator and can't speak. Madigan has a rare genetic disease that is slowly robbing her muscles of their strength.
Taking care of her daughter is a full-time job, but Lang also has to keep her job selling lightbulbs for General Electric.
"We were unprepared and I didn't have all of the things that I needed to manage my work from here," said Lang. "Then I panic because I want to be able to be accessible and make sure that people know that I can manage both. That's my big goal, especially in this economy. I don't want to lose my job you know?"
Lang got free computer help from Geek Squad staffers, who were stationed at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
When Lang arrived at the hospital, her cell phone was dead and she'd forgotten the charger. The Geek Squad gave Lang another charger and they added new software to her laptop so she could conduct remote web conferences with her clients.
For the past two months, Richfield-based Best Buy Co., which owns Geek Squad, has been running a pilot project at the hospital to test if it's helpful have tech support staff available to donate computer help and supplies to patients and their families.
"It's one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had. I've never had people be so appreciative of getting help," said Jesse Kneeland, a Geek Squad staffer who has answered several of Lang's computer calls.
Kneeland said he loves hearing how much patients appreciate the service. But he says working at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis is a dream assignment.
"People saying you helped me keep my job," Kneeland said. "I even had one mom say we were a miracle worker. And I thought, well, that's the doctor's job. We're just here to help you out with your technology."
Sometimes the Geek Squad's miracles are as simple as changing a password.
Karen Kepka turned to Kneeland for computer help last week. Before her infant son was hospitalized, Kepka had never needed to use a computer.
"They're the best," Kepka said. "They're lifesavers actually. My husband and I are not very good at computers."
With Kneeland's help, Kepka has been able to post photos and report on her son's progress for family members and friends who live far away. Kepka said she doubts she could have done it on her own.
Jeri Kayser, a child life specialist at Children's Hospital, used to receive calls for computer help before the Geek Squad arrived. It's her job to make patients and their families more comfortable in the hospital.
"It wasn't so hard when the systems were simple," Kayser said. "Now everything has gotten so much more complex. I don't have the expertise to deal with that."
Kayser says the Geek Squad staffers have been a huge help. She says it's a good example of a company donating the services that it does best, rather than creating a new philanthropic venture.
She thinks there are plenty of other situations where businesses could tap their own expertise to help their local hospital, including hospital pajamas.
"It would be nice to have cute pajamas, ones that functionally worked well," Kayser said. "Maybe a clothing designer would be better to do that than a hospital supply company."
Best Buy is expected to decide later this spring whether it will expand its tech help program to the St. Paul location of Children's Hospital.
- Morning Edition, 01/12/2010, 7:25 a.m.