Posted: January 10, 2018

In addition to GRH’s talented care providers, several unique volunteers support the hospital’s older patients in their recovery.

As their program leader, Marsha Krueger is thrilled to play a role in making GRH’s hospital elder life program (HELP) a reality.

Grand River Hospital has hosted HELP since 2012. The program pairs volunteers with older adults who are hospitalized. Together, they complete exercises, have conversations and engage in activities designed to prevent delirium through hospital stays… a common concern for many patients.

Marsha Krueger Portrait

Marsha brings a background in therapeutic recreation and an interest in the care of older adults to her work in running HELP. She’s been pleased to watch the program grow and develop over the past several years.

How did you become involved with HELP at the hospital?

After speaking with a colleague who is an elder life specialist at another facility, I became quite interested in this role within HELP.

When the position became available at GRH, I thought it would be great opportunity for me given my background in therapeutic recreation and genuine interest in the health and well-being of older adults.

I really enjoy the fact that this position involves interacting with patients and their families and that I get to work with amazing volunteers on a daily basis.

What’s your role now?

As an elder life specialist for HELP, I receive referrals from team members for patients who are at risk of developing delirium, or sudden confusion. I assess the individual, talk with family and enroll patients into HELP.

Once enrolled, I develop an individualized care plan related to past and present interest and cognitive functioning. Volunteers then work within the care plan to assist the patients. A primary function of my role is to advocate for hospitalized older patients.

How does HELP work?

Volunteers engage with patients up to three times a day for 30 minutes at a time. Volunteers provide various interventions such as:

  1. Orientation to surroundings: this is extremely important for patients with dementia to help them feel safe and secure;
  2. Therapeutic activities: mental stimulation is important for overall health of patient and improves their overall outcome. Keeping patients alert during the day makes a much better restful night for the patient;
  3. Functional movement: exercises to help keep mobility in the joints preventing physical decline while in hospital; and
  4. Socialization, including meal time set-up assistance and encouragement.
Marsha plans upcoming patient visits with volunteers Kunpei and Katie.
Marsha plans upcoming patient visits with volunteers Kunpei and Katie.
Why are these activities so important?

When an older patient comes into the hospital they are at risk of developing delirium. If a patient develops delirium in the hospital, it generally will double their length of stay.

Mental stimulation decreases rates of confusion, and thus leads to a shorter length of stay.  As well it helps the patient maintain a positive attitude. HELP makes a difference this way.

Families are dispersed all over the world and an older person may not have family that is easily accessible to be at the hospital. Volunteer visits give the patient meaningful interactions each day.

What do volunteers get out of their time?

Volunteers express that they feel they are giving back to the community. Many of my volunteers have an interest in going into the health care field and this provides them with the opportunity to experience and interact in a hospital setting.

What have patients said about their HELP interactions?

Patients fill out a satisfaction survey upon being discharged from the hospital. These are some of the comments we have received from patients:

  • “Your volunteers make me proud of the younger generation.”
  • “They kept me positive during my stay.”
  • “The volunteers gave me someone to talk to, made me feel less lonely.”
  • “I came into the hospital and thought I would be bored. The HELP program increased my stimulation and I am more confident to go home.”
  • "New, friendly conversation, hockey trivia questions, focuses on patient interests.”
  • “Friendliness, accepting my limits and encouraging me to take part and exercise.”
  • “Volunteers all came with honest smiles and didn’t rush the time.”

Family members have written:

  • “It was a comfort to have someone there for my father.”
  • “This program was greatly appreciated.”
  • “The HELP program was and is a wonderful program in every way. His family was appreciative that someone was visiting and doing activities.”
  • “We found everyone to be caring and of invaluable assistance, we as a family thank everyone so much.”
Why are you proud of it?

Every day I am in awe of the willingness and excitement each volunteer brings to their shift. I am proud that HELP is seen as such a valuable program in the hospital, recognized by staff as a benefit to patients.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at GRH, including HELP...

More GRH Stories