Nova Scotia

ER clothing drive makes sure no patient leaves hospital in paper scrubs

'It can make the world of difference,' says social worker of clothing donation program

Donna Naugler

Donna Naugler gave a patient clothes from her husband after she realized his only other option would be to go home in paper scrubs. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)


Staff at a Halifax emergency department are donating their own clothes to some patients who would otherwise face the "demoralizing" experience of leaving hospital in paper scrubs following treatment.

Donna Naugler, a nurse at the Halifax Infirmary, knew she had to do something to help when she met a patient last year. The man had no family, no way to get home, and no one to bring him clothes so he could change out of scrubs provided by the hospital.

Naugler refused to let him leave in that condition. 

"The paper scrubs just don't cut it," she said. "So I went home and got some clothes from my husband."

That exchange sparked a donation drive at the hospital. Now, piles of gently used clothes donated by staff are stored in the hallway. Everything from shoes to jackets, to new underwear and socks. 

"Sometimes we had to cut off their clothing if it was a trauma, sometimes they just didn't have anything," said Naugler. "They're grateful, a lot of them."

Donated clothes

The donated clothes in the Halifax Infirmary's emergency department come from staff to ensure they're in good quality and don't have bedbugs. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Helping assault victims

The small gesture can mean the world of difference to people going through trauma, says Liz McLaughlin, a social worker in the emergency department. 

"It's a pretty vital thing we have here," she said.

McLaughlin uses the example of sexual assault victims, who have to give all their clothing to police as evidence. 

"To go out in the unsafe feeling of wearing a johnny shirt is very demoralizing and upsetting," McLaughlin said. "So to be able to send them home in something cozy where they can feel safe and comfortable makes a huge difference."

Homeless patients

It's not just trauma victims. The department also sees a number of homeless patients, or people living in poverty, especially in the winter.

Liz McLaughlin

Social worker Liz McLaughlin says emergency department's clothing drive is vital to make sure their patients feel safe after they leave. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

If their shoes are wet, they have a higher risk of developing foot problems. The staff always make sure they leave with a dry pair, and a new outfit. 

"Oftentimes it's the only thing we can give them," said McLaughlin. "We can't really make their housing situation any different, but if we can send them in a warm coat and dry pants and socks … we can make a difference in that moment."

Staff-driven initiative

The clothing drive is all internal, so staff can ensure the clothes are still in good quality and don't have bedbugs. 

There are similar programs at the emergency departments at Dartmouth General Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. 

"Emerg kind of gets that view that we're just all about the trauma and getting people in and out," said Naugler. "We really do care about our patients."

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