New program improves care for elderly patients

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Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) recently announced the launch of the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) to improve care for elderly patients.

“At TBRHSC, we are committed to the care of seniors,” says Aaron Skillen, Program Director, Chronic Disease Prevention and Management and Medicine Services. “That is why our hospital, in partnership with St. Joseph’s Care Group, has implemented the HELP program.”

HELP is a registered, comprehensive program of care for hospitalized older patients, designed to prevent delirium and functional decline during hospitalization. Using a team of well-trained volunteers, it supports patients to be more functional and independent when discharged from hospital.

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The volunteer group is trained and guided by HELP Coordinator, Kelsey Lecappelain, who works in conjunction with a Clinical Nurse Specialist, Joy Kolic, as well as a Geriatrician, a Volunteer Coordinator, nurses and other interprofessional staff. Volunteers provide daily interventions to in-patients, assisting patients with exercise, cognitive and stimulation activities, and feeding. They may take the patient for a walk, encourage eating at meal times, and provide some mental and/or social interaction.

HELP is being piloted in one unit of TBRHSC for inpatients 70 years plus who present with at least one risk factor for cognitive and functional decline. HELP team member and geriatrician with St. Joseph’s Care Group, Dr. Seda Rafilovich says they have already seen great results among patients enrolled in HELP after only a few weeks. “We’ve seen cognitive test scores increase between admission and discharge. All discharged HELP patients have returned to their previous living situations and we’re already seeing a reduction in the average length of stay,” says Dr. Rafilovich. “By ensuring volunteers are present to carry out patient-specific activities, three times daily, not only will overall health outcomes be improved, but the entire patient and family experience will benefit.”

Skillen is co-leading the project with Susan Franchi, Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation and Chronic Disease Management at St. Joseph’s Care Group. “Both of our organizations hope to improve the health of seniors, limit the number of discharged seniors returning to the Emergency Department, and reduce the number being placed in Long-Term Care,” says Franchi.

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At this time, HELP has been funded for one year, the 2014-2015 fiscal year, by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, through the North West Local Health Integration Network, as part of the Emergency Department Pay-For-Results program.

TBRHSC started the program in August with the hiring of HELP Coordinator, Kelsey Lecappelain, and Clinical Nurse Specialist, Joy Kolic.

So far the results have been positive. Patients have said: “I felt taken care of”; “it was nice to have someone to talk to”; “I loved having a friendly face popping in”.