HELPing Improve Care for Elderly Patients: Program Celebrates 1 Year Anniversary

Patients enrolled in HELP receive daily visits from dedicated, well-trained volunteers who help reduce delirium and improve the overall experience of TBRHSC’s senior patients.
Patients enrolled in HELP receive daily visits from dedicated, well-trained volunteers who help reduce delirium and improve the overall experience of TBRHSC’s senior patients.

One year since its launch, Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) has a lot to celebrate.

“The HELP program is primarily known as a delirium prevention program, but is also known for maintaining cognitive and physical functioning, maximizing independence at discharge, reducing hospital stays, and reducing readmission rates,” explains Kelsey Lecappelain, HELP Coordinator, TBRHSC. Delirium is a sudden onset of confusion and can be brought on by a number of factors that are assigned with lengthy hospital stays.

“In our first year on our pilot unit, The HELP Program has shown success in reducing average elderly hospital stays from 12 to 7 days, reducing delirium rates from 10% down to 1%, reducing the number of senior patients discharged to long-term care from 10% down to 1%, and preventing mental and functional decline in older patients while maintaining their dignity and respect,” says Lecappelain.

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

Over 400 senior patients have been enrolled in the program to date. Patients receive daily visits from volunteers who provide therapeutic activities and games, walking or exercise, and help with feeding. In the past year, HELP volunteers have collectively provided over 1,600 hours of quality time with patients.

“HELP is an important program, providing meaningful and cost-effective care that speaks loudly to TBRHSC’s Seniors Health initiative, which is a Strategic Direction identified in TBRHSC’s Strategic Plan 2020. It also provides a constructive, concrete experience to prepare families, communities, and our health care system for our aging society,” says Lecappelain. The need for senior care in the community is growing rapidly and the HELP program has been crucial in maintaining the highest level of personal attention and support that is valued by TBRHSC patients and their families.

“The volunteers were there when I needed to talk. HELP is an excellent program and I am very happy it’s being implemented,” stated a previous HELP patient. “This is a great program for my mother,” said another patient’s family member. “The volunteers are friendly and great for my mother’s morale. Our family is extremely satisfied.”

Lecappelain also notes that patients and families aren’t the only ones benefiting from HELP. TBRHSC staff is also happy to have the program on their units. “We have received really positive feedback from staff, stating that their patients have been happier, they enjoy the interaction, and their cognitions have improved thanks to the HELP program,” she says.

TBRHSC is always looking for more volunteers to provide support and companionship for patients enrolled in the HELP program – particularly those who are available for daytime shifts. If you are over 18 and interested in becoming a HELP volunteer, please contact Volunteer Services at 684-6267 to learn more.

The HELP program will be featured in the CBC series “Keeping Canada Alive”, which will give viewers an unprecedented look at the health care system and the powerful emotional stories that take place within it. “Keeping Canada Alive” airs Sundays at 9 p.m./9:30 NT starting October 4th on CBC. It can also be viewed online at