Alumni in Action: Mathea Jacobs ’04 shares knowledge and joy with children’s hospital patients

Mathea Jacobs '04 manages KidZone TV, a state-of-the-art, interactive production and internal broadcast studio within the Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital. In this role, Mathea gives patients an opportunity to have interactive, educational and fun experiences during difficult times.

Alumni in Action

Mathea Jacobs ’04, who graduated from Elon in 2004 with a print and broadcast journalism degree, began her career as a part-time graphic designer/character generator operator at WICU-TV, an NBC affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. While there, Jacobs climbed the ladder to the night-side editor position, then to morning show producer. When Jacobs and her husband, Bret Jacobs ’03, moved to Central Pennsylvania, she found a temp position in the marketing department for Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She discovered that she enjoyed this work and secured a permanent position as the institution’s videographer/video producer, where she stayed for about eight years. In this role, Jacobs produced marketing videos, educational content and patient stories, and caught the attention of the Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital. Jacobs joined the Mount Sinai staff as the studio manager for KidZone TV where she could continue to produce meaningful content.

Q: Can you tell us about KidZone TV?

A: KidZone TV is a closed-circuit station within Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital. We run five live shows a day, seven days a week. We use television as a therapeutic modality for both entertainment and self-expression. It’s television for kids, by kids and teens. We run game shows, trivia, art, music and welcome special celebrity guests. All of our shows are interactive. Patients can call in from their beside or text in with answers and photos.

We also welcome patients to the studio to learn how to use all of the equipment, such as cameras, video switcher, and audio. Patients and their families also create and produce their own shows while they are in the hospital.

Alumni in Action

Q: How was KidZone TV impacted by COVID-19? What did you do to adapt?

A: KidZone TV is designed to reach all patients in the hospital, even when they are in isolation. We create virtual programming and fun for kids who cannot leave their rooms. With the new restrictions faced during COVID-19, we increased our programming from three to five shows a day. A lot of our in-person programming was made virtual through the CCTV channel, such as playgroups, art, and music. We could enter the rooms virtually for kids and teens fighting COVID and give them an opportunity for socialization.

Our biggest adjustment was welcoming our special guests. Each week we had visits from Broadway stars, musicians, actors and athletes. We needed a way to keep them involved with our patients so we went virtual with Zoom. We have been able to have some wonderful guests, like David Blaine, interact with our patients through Zoom on KidZone or via one of our robots in their room.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping up with daily changes in our safety regulations. The COVID situation changes dramatically in a short amount of time. A field hospital was erected across the street. We had to think about our patients’ wellbeing, as well as our staff and ourselves.

Our department is responsible for easing our patients’ stay as well as educating them about their hospital care. We took this to heart as the COVID crises rose and we created a series of teaching videos geared towards parents and kids.

Q: What have been some of your favorite moments that have been shared on KidZone TV throughout the pandemic?

A: While it was a stressful time, I was able to really see the staff, nurses and doctors come together. Our colleagues were getting sick and the world was changing, but we really looked out for each other.

On KidZone specifically, I felt uplifted any time I saw a patient having fun during a show. It was always a reminder of why we do what we do. Seeing them enjoy getting a bingo while the world was in turmoil really got me through many days. I loved the outpouring from groups we work with, such as Broadway Hearts. They sent us wonderful shout outs from and recorded special messages for patients. Another group called Lollipop brought us some amazing celebrities, like Jack Black. Our entire staff was uplifted by him the day he Zoomed in.

Q: What is the impact that this programming has had on children and families during the pandemic?

A: I think our programming gave patients and families a sense of normalcy. We have patients who are long term or make repeat visits. It felt important to offer a service they were used to receiving, something that was not restricted. It also helped to turn parents away from the 24-hour news cycle. KidZone was also important as a teaching tool. Like any children’s station, we are a safe place for kids and teens to learn about what is happening. We were able to provide mini “news reports” on the tents being set up across the street and any other changes they might be seeing in the hospital.

Q: Could you tell us about Amos, his role as a therapy dog at the hospital and his involvement with KidZone TV? Have aspects of his role changed due to COVID-19?

A: Amos is a full-time facility dog, part of our Paws and Play program. We have three dogs, which serve our patients and staff. During the crisis, the dogs were limited on patient visits for a short time. Amos and the other pups were a much-needed part of staff support. We even brought them to the field hospital in Central Park. They would still visit patients with clearance from a physician, a practice we already had in place. Everyone who pets the dogs must sanitize before and after. Again, a practice that was already in place. All the dogs were able to do robot visits with COVID-restricted patients. Amos makes a lot of KidZone appearances during our weekly show “Dog Talk”. The pups do tricks, taste testings with treats, and more! Amos makes many KidZone appearances since the studio is where he hangs out. The dogs make such a difference for everyone.

Alumni in Action

Q: Anything else you’d like to add that will benefit the telling of your story?

A:  There is still a harsh reality of this disease. We sadly lost co-workers and some who got sick are still fighting COVID-19, months later. Some days were very tough on us as a team and a department, but I think it’s important to create these spaces of fun and story-telling. To give our patients and families a voice despite all the noise, and to create a small community in a place like a children’s hospital.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work in their careers and their communities. To share the names of alumni you think should be considered for this series, please fill out the Alumni in Action nomination form.