Hurley launches area's first Hospital Elder Life Program to care for, visit with geriatric patients

Flint, MI — In Hurley’s HELP office, there are shelves full of memory games, board games, and puzzles, all designed to bring a bit of quality time to the lives of the grandparents, veterans, and elderly patients staying here. 

Hurley is the first hospital in Genesee County to offer HELP, otherwise known as Hospital Elder Life Program. The program has existed for over a decade nationwide and since June 2018 here on Hurley’s geriatric floor. The only other HELP program in Michigan is housed at the University of Michigan Hospitals. 

Millie Hursin, 63, has been a HELP volunteer since the very start of program and found she enjoys this often overlooked way to make a difference.
HELP volunteers often play games to provide mental stimulation to geriatric patients at Hurley Medical Center.
Hursin said most people think about either cuddling newborns or volunteering in the hospital gift shop, but Hursin was drawn to HELP because it is the area of greatest need. 

“My mother is 92 years old, and I just can’t imagine her being in the hospital. … If my mother lived in another state and if I knew that someone wasn’t there, I would appreciate having someone coming in and volunteering to sit with her for like an hour in the morning and engaging with her in an activity,” said Hursin.

During one of Hursin’s early volunteer sessions, she met a woman in her mid-80s that was visibly fatigued and bored. Hursin walked in and opened the blinds, offering to play a game of Uno. And, Hursin quickly saw a dramatic change: The woman’s mood improved and so did her appetite. When simply given a little companionship, the patient’s overall health quickly improved.

“I just spent some quality time with her. That’s what this whole program is about — getting them to reduce the amount of time they are in the hospital, to improve their recovery time.” 

Ruba Mahfouz Alkotob, an occupational therapist and program director of HELP at Hurley, cited research by Harvard professor and Dr. Sharon Inouye over the last 20 years that shows elderly patients who are hospitalized for long periods of time are susceptible to hospital-induced delirium. 

Delirium has a quick onset in comparison to dementia and can be triggered by certain medications, dehydration, and lack of visitors over a long period of time, said Mahfouz Alkotob. HELP volunteers offer companionship and activity, and also are trained to gauge patients’ overall health. 

More volunteers are needed though. The program is still new and relatively unknown to many and it has seen a decrease in volunteer applications since the summer, Mahfouz Alkotob said.

And, volunteer Kathleen Russell said she knows with more volunteers comes more comfort and care for the elderly patients she sees. 

“The attractive part is that you can do a two hour shift,” said Russell, 62, who also has been a HELP volunteer since June. “The most I can get through in that two (or) two and a half hour period is four people and you know there’s always more than four.” 

For more information on HELP, visit hurleymc.com or call them directly at 810-262-6961.

Read more articles by Alexandria Brown.

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