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April 4, 2006 > Time Well Spent

Time Well Spent

New Volunteer Program Focuses on Patient Interaction

Father Jeff Finley, Washington Hospital's spiritual care coordinator, relied on his sense of empathy to come up with an idea that has flourished into a new program benefiting patients in the hospital.

"As I was making rounds as the chaplain I found many (patients) were really in need of companionship," Finley says. "When people don't have company it makes their stay longer. I realized there were a lot of patients that needed companionship, especially during the day when their families are unable to visit" due to work or other types of commitments.

Finley notes that as a past patient in the hospital himself, it can be an uncertain time for patients, and he didn't know what he would have done without a strong social network of people who came to visit him during his stay.

Washington's Volunteer Patient Companion Program links patients in need to volunteers who come to their room to chat, read to them or even play cards or a game with them.

The Washington Hospital Employee's Association has already donated funding to help the new program purchase games, cards and reading materials for volunteers to use in their interactions with patients.

After coming up with the original idea for a patient companion program, Finley approached Washington Hospital's Director of Volunteer Services Anna Elola, who, with the blessing of the Washington Hospital Service League Board of Directors, organized a committee to run the program.

The committee, which includes staff members from speech therapy, occupational therapy, charge nurse staff and the dialysis department, modeled the companion program after the hospital's long-running Patient Feeding Program, which allows volunteers to aid nursing staff by helping to feed patients who might be unable to feed themselves.

The program has already trained a small group of volunteers. Each volunteer is instructed to call the charge nurse on duty to find out if any patients are in need of company before even coming to the hospital so they don't report to the hospital when there isn't a need.

"The beginning volunteers shadow one of the committee team members for training to learn things like how to adjust the beds, hand-washing hygiene and the proper approach to greeting a patient," Finley explains.

The program provides more than just a brief visit from volunteers, according to Finley.

"I think this program is a great opportunity," Finley says. "And I think it really helps with the healing process. There are different aspects of care. The patient companions are addressing a non-spiritual component of patient care that's equally important. The program helps patients overcome fears of the hospital as a new patient. I think the program is a lot more than just visiting."

In addition to the benefits to patients, Finley says the program also offers a great deal to the volunteers, especially the younger volunteers who have an interest in entering the medical field.

"A lot of our younger volunteers really want to get experience in health care," Finley says. "This particular volunteer program is one that offers more patient contact."

More importantly, volunteering gives people the chance to look at things through another person's eyes, according to Finley.

"It's about putting yourself into someone else's perspective," Finley says. "Volunteering helps us to think about others and what we would want if we were in that person's place."

To learn more about becoming a volunteer patient companion at Washington Hospital, call Washington Hospital's Volunteer Services Department at (510) 791-3465 or visit, click on "Giving to WHHS," and select "Volunteer Opportunities" from the drop-down menu.

Washington Hospital has a variety of different volunteer opportunities to fit the needs of individual volunteers - ranging from taking newborns' photos for new parents to bringing cheer to the hospital's lobby through your piano-playing talent. Volunteer Services holds monthly volunteer information sessions, and provides extensive hospital regulation and safety training to its volunteers.

Celebrate Volunteers During National Volunteer Week

Next month, Washington Hospital will celebrate the men, women and young people who give of their time so freely to help make the hospital what it is during National Volunteer Week, April 23-29. If you come to the hospital for care, remember to thank a volunteer. Or, better yet, find out how you can return the favor and become one.

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