Clara Maass Medical Center – Hospital Elder Life Program

The United States population of older adults is expected to increase from 12 percent to 21 percent by 2030. In preparation for the anticipated growth, Clara Maass Medical Center implemented the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) to provide extra attention and care to senior citizens admitted to the hospital. Statistics indicate that 20 percent to 40 percent of older adults experience a functional decline during hospitalization. With the assistance of trained volunteers, HELP provides patients ages 70 and older with interventions that address a broad scope of geriatric issues to prevent cognitive and functional decline. Volunteers assist in the prevention of patient overall decline through activities such as therapeutic communication, cognitive orientation, fluid repletion, meal assistance and mobility sessions.

Overview

The United States population of older adults is expected to increase from 12 percent to 21 percent by 2030. In preparation for the anticipated growth, Clara Maass Medical Center implemented the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) to provide extra attention and care to senior citizens admitted to the hospital. Statistics indicate that 20 percent to 40 percent of older adults experience a functional decline during hospitalization. With the assistance of trained volunteers, HELP provides patients ages 70 and older with interventions that address a broad scope of geriatric issues to prevent cognitive and functional decline. Volunteers assist in the prevention of patient overall decline through activities such as therapeutic communication, cognitive orientation, fluid repletion, meal assistance and mobility sessions.

Impact

From 2014 to 2016, 1,379 patients were screened. Out of the screened patients, 577 patients ages 70 and older were enrolled in HELP. Of these enrolled patients: 48 percent showed improvement, 45 percent maintained baseline functioning, 7 percent showed decline, and 7.6 percent were readmitted.

Lessons Learned

HELP was initially funded by the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey for the first three years. Due to positive outcomes, Clara Maass Medical Center has assumed the costs to continue running the program. The volunteers are devoted and enthusiastic about the essential work they provide. On average, they come for at least four hours weekly for six months and longer. The program’s volunteer pool varies, averaging 20 volunteers donating approximately 150 hours weekly.

Volunteer recruitment and retention are difficult at times due to the medical requirements to work in a hospital, as well as work and school demands. However, the program is as devoted to the volunteers’ success as they are to the success of HELP. The shared commitment ultimately leads to having a dedicated group of volunteers.

Volunteers also contribute to the success and development of the program. They are often encouraged to express ideas on improvement of the program and individualized care of patients. For example, a volunteer noticed female patients like to have their nails and hair done even though they are in the hospital. She donated nail polish, and patients expressed feeling better about their appearance after they had their nails painted.

Future Goals

Receiving the AHA HAVE Award is a recognition they would like to use to increase recruitment to be able to cover all shifts (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays). HELP has shown proven results that benefit everybody involved. They would like to be able assist other hospitals to implement this program in their own facilities. Having a program that offers age-sensitive care to this vulnerable population is a must in today’s health care environment.

Contact: Fabiana Alvarez
Geriatric Coordinator/Volunteer Manager
Telephone: 973-450-2558
Email: fabiana.alvarez@rwjbh.org

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