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New volunteer program focuses on seniors

Toronto, June 6, 2012

By Michael Kidd

A volunteer sits bedside with a patient and her daughter
(Photo by Yuri Markarov)

When volunteer Bill Hedley finishes his shift, he leaves knowing that he has made a real difference in the lives of St. Michael’s patients.

Hedley is one of the six volunteers in a new pilot program called VISA (Volunteers Involving Seniors in Activities) on 14CC. Headed by Dorothy Knights, a nurse, and Jill Gibson, a recreation therapist, VISA is designed to enhance and maintain cognitive and physical functioning of older patients throughout their hospitalization.

Many hospitals have found that since elderly patients frequently stay in hospital longer than other patients, they are prone to feeling isolated and detached; some even lack visitors. VISA is intended to proactively head off these issues and supports the new St. Michael’s senior-friendly hospital strategy.

VISA volunteers engage senior patients through an extended bedside visit that includes conversation, reminiscing, recreational activities and maybe even a walk around the unit. Although only recently launched, the program is showing early positive results for patients, staff and volunteers.

Family members also see the difference in their loved ones. The son of a patient recently spoke to Hedley after Hedley had spent two hours with his dad. The son said that his dad had been depressed over the past week of his hospitalization. However, after Hedley’s visit, his dad was smiling and laughing, and equally important, the son said he could follow up with his dad about the many long-forgotten positive memories and topics that Hedley had drawn out of him.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.