Welcoming Families to the ICU

At Mackenzie Health, volunteers pride themselves on being professional, welcoming and supportive. Nowhere is that more evident than in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Patients and families can find comfort and reassurance with the help of volunteers who help them understand how the visiting hours work in the ICU and what they can expect when visiting a loved one.

As a volunteer in Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department (ED), Deanna Samuels is keenly aware of the stress that visitors can experience when visiting these busy and active areas. She prides herself with being a calming influence who is able to help visitors and family members navigate the ICU and ED, making their visits a little easier with a friendly smile and helping hand.

“Aside from worrying about a loved one, the equipment and surroundings in this environment can be overwhelming and stressful for families,” says Samuels. “I enjoy being a calm and pleasant presence when people are at their most vulnerable and concerned. Being helpful to visitors while remaining composed and compassionate myself comforts them.”

“Volunteering in such emotional and complicated areas isn’t for everyone,” says Karen Andersen, the hospital’s Director of Volunteer and Community Resources. “It takes a special kind of person to bring comfort to others during their most stressful times. Our community benefits from over 900 civic-minded residents who give of their time and talents by contributing to the hospital in a variety of ways.”

Some visitors may be anxious, some may easily become upset while others may wish to be left alone. It is up to the volunteer to assess the situation and apply the right amount of empathy to eliminate unnecessary stress that families visiting the ICU may experience.

Restricted visiting in the ICU often presents challenges for the volunteer. Volunteers take the time to answer questions and explain that for the wellbeing of patients there are visiting rules in place specific to the ICU. The volunteers explain why there may be times when visitors are requested to wait outside or leave the room, or they let visitors know when a patient is having a test performed or the patient is sleeping.

Some of the ways volunteers help maintain a comfortable and pleasant environment for visiting family members include ensuring that the family rooms are well equipped with blankets, tissue and drinking cups, as well as tidying the family rooms from time to time throughout their shift. Sometimes the most important thing a volunteer can do is just sit and listen to visitors. On occasion, they may even share a tear or two with the visitor as they wait for news about their loved one.

“I have no words to say nor gifts to share that would express my appreciation of our ICU volunteers,” says Veron Ash, the Manager of Mackenzie Health’s Intensive Care Unit.  “They are all incredibly generous, caring and giving individuals who are very much appreciated by the entire ICU team as well as our patients and families – even though at times they (families) don’t realize that, because they are so grief stricken.”

“The most rewarding part of this role for me is to see patients leave the Intensive Care Unit well enough to be able to go home or to transfer to another less intense care area of the hospital,” adds Samuels. “I get satisfaction and am very happy knowing I had a small part in helping the hospital do such a great job in caring for our community.”

Deanna spends Tuesday mornings offering assistance and comfort to families and visitors in the ICU. On Thursdays, she assists in the Emergency Department – directing or helping make sure patients are where they need to be, locating and showing visitors to the patients who are receiving treatment in the ED and helping with any non-medical queries anyone might have