PORTLAND — Michael Best watched his daughter, Ramona, play at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine on Friday, Nov. 27.
“We may not get out of here all day,” he said as she tended stuffed animals in the museum’s new hospital wing.
The “Be Well Center” at the 142 Free St. museum does not take up much space. But from mock-ups of an ambulance to an MRI screen, the opportunity it offers captured the attention of children throughout the morning.
“The main goal of the space is an emphasis on empathy, compassion and community health,” museum Deputy Director Lucia Stancioff said.
The first-floor exhibit, sponsored by the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, opened Nov. 20.
“Our goal is to engage children and their families in their own health and wellness, and maybe make a future visit to a hospital or doctor’s office less intimidating. This exhibit may also inspire future generations of health care professionals,” hospital Associate Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Lorraine McElwain said in a Nov. 23 press release.
Stancioff said the exhibit’s popularity is visibly evident.
“You can tell it is well-loved, it is always messy,” she joked.
A mix of real and make-believe offers visitors the chance to role-play, from hospital arrival through treatment and care, with working stethoscopes, a video screen showing the MRI diagnosis, a gurney, and a microscope.
The patients are bears. The blankets and bandages are real, and the visitors too intent on tending and treating to express why they were enjoying their visits.
“We didn’t really want it to be about preventative health, the focus is on empathy,” Stancioff said.
A “soft opening” on Nov. 19 also included medical professionals who walked children through the processes of diagnostics and care. Maine Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Pierter said the exhibit will also be used for educational programs.
Ramona Best, 4, of Portland, cares for a “patient” on Nov. 27 at a new Children’s Museum of Maine exhibit sponsored by the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.