California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), part of Sutter Health’s not-for-profit integrated network of care, has more than 850 volunteers that help provide companionship and emotional support to patients and their families in the emergency department and elsewhere, guiding people around facilities, explaining procedures, helping patients eat, playing music, performing clerical duties and so much more.
To help reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, CPMC volunteers are currently sheltering in place but that hasn’t stopped them from participating in the hospital’s Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). This unique program allows volunteers to engage elderly patients to help prevent episodes of delirium and increase their functional independence.
Instead of meeting patients at the bedside, CPMC volunteers are conducting phone and virtual visits to help keep their patients mobile and alert, with the goal of them getting well faster and going home sooner.
“When we knew our HELP volunteers couldn’t continue to visit our patients at the hospital, we immediately looked at digital alternatives and whether our volunteers could still make a meaningful connection through a virtual visit,” said Clara Rubin-Smith McKie, CPMC Volunteer Coordinator/Elder Life Specialist. “The answer was yes, and we’re excited that our volunteers have committed themselves to engaging patients remotely.”
HELP Volunteers are now using their mobile phones and tablets to communicate with patients. They engage and stimulate patients through activities such as guiding them through range of motion and breathing exercises to reduce stress and encouraging them to walk.
“The HELP program at CPMC has helped reduce falls for older patients by 22 percent and readmission by 25 percent,” says Wendy Zachary, M.D., CPMC hospitalist and HELP physician-champion. “It’s vital during the COVID-19 pandemic that we continue to help support these fragile patients and I applaud our volunteers for their dedication during this difficult time.”
Patients Appreciate the Conversations
Melissa Ann Im, a HELP Volunteer had a lovely conversation last week and passed along the following comment from a patient:
“I’m not a great fan of the human race… but the people who work at the hospitals are the kindest people on the planet… working all their days to alleviating pain and saving lives. They do it because it is what they want to do. They are the most caring and professional people… I am in awe.”
“I appreciate you volunteers so much. You don’t have to do this, but you do… if you could see me right now, I have a big smile on my face.”
Building relationships are the key. HELP volunteers are taught about using a healing touch to establish a trusting relationship with the patient. Amidst the current stress of the pandemic, for many volunteers, it’s the highlight of their week.
“I’m so grateful to our volunteers for continuing to do this great work during this extremely challenging time,” says Frances Huang, CPMC Volunteer Coordinator/Elder Life Specialist. “The significant improvement in the level of care our patients receive from the HELP program is immense and I’m glad that our volunteers continue to bring smiles to so many faces.”