New volunteer program provides helping hands for patients and families
Last spring, Christine Dolan, a volunteer with Children’s Hospital Boston, came across a family in the process of being discharged from the hospital. The mother and father were juggling paperwork, packing bags, checking to make sure nothing got left behind, all while trying to care for their daughter. Dolan mentioned to them that the hospital was piloting a new program to assist families through the discharge process, and that a volunteer would be happy to help with their luggage. “The mother and father said it sounded great, but they only had a few dollars on them,” says Dolan. “I was thrilled to be able to tell them that this is a free service that Children’s offers to our families. No fees, no tipping—just a helping hand to give families one less thing to worry about.”
Developed in Volunteer Services with the guidance of Marcie Brostoff, MS, RN, director of Nurse Education and Staff Development, the Discharge Buddies program started last March on Main 10. Using the hospital’s BTO (Bed Turnover) system, the centralized work flow system provides a real-time list of patients flagged as scheduled to go home that day. The Discharge Buddy volunteers are dispatched to the floors where they’re needed, and check in with the Work Flow and Charges Nurses, who assign each Buddy to a specific patient and brief them on any specific needs the patient or family has.
“Think about a parent with a toddler—they have their diaper bag, their clothes and medication, and their child’s feeling better and more rambunctious,” says Miranda Guardiani, MS, CCLS, Child Life specialist with Volunteer Services. “Any parent would love to have an extra set of hands on a healthy day at home, let alone leaving the hospital.”
That’s an extra set of hands completely committed to one family’s needs. Whether they’re retrieving a wheelchair or go-kart, helping with luggage, keeping a child company while parents deal with last-minute paperwork or prescriptions, or getting the ball rolling with Valet Parking, Discharge Buddies stay with one family until they’re out the door and on their way home. “It’s not really that time-consuming for the volunteers, but the amount of time saved and anxiety spared for our patients and their families is immeasurable,” says Barbara Blundell, supervisor of Volunteer Services.
In assembling the Discharge Buddies team, Blundell focused on volunteers with exceptional interpersonal skills, like Robert Colon and Leslie Zheutlin. A recent retiree, Colon started volunteering on 7W last year. It was the first time he had ever worked with children, but he was a natural, and 22 years working for UPS prepared him for the hospital in other ways. “He’s all about safety, doing it the right way, checking and double-checking everything,” says Blundell. In order to make sure all Discharge Buddies are prepared for the challenges they may face on the patient floors, the volunteers receive additional training in areas like wheelchair inspection and cleaning and infection control.
Blundell recently received a phone call from a mother who had Colon assigned as her family’s Discharge Buddy. “She said no one had ever helped her like this before,” says Blundell. “She was practically in tears, asking me to do something for Robert as a way of saying thank you.”
Colon says his reward is much simpler: “If I can send a child home with a smile, then I can go home with a smile.”
Zheutlin sees the Discharge Buddies as ambassadors of the hospital, providing service to patients and families, but also helping nurses to stay on their floors, where they’re needed most. Though she appreciates the instant gratification of helping a family whose child is healthy, happy and excited to be going home, sometimes they’re not the ones who need the Discharge Buddies the most. “For every patient who’s happy or excited to leave, there are also patients who are still dealing with some discomfort, or may have chronic conditions,” says Zheutlin. “If we’re the last people they see before they leave—if we’re the ones who are wishing them well, looking after them, getting them extra pillows to prop up whatever needs to be propped up—that’s one more layer of comfort that Children’s can offer them.”
The Discharge Buddies program was piloted successfully with two volunteers covering families on the 10th floor from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Since then, a second shift has been added from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and coverage has expanded to floors 6 through 10. For more information, please call Volunteer Services at 617-355-7885.