Volunteer Programs to Support Patient Care At Newton-Wellesley Hospital...
Over the past few years, the Volunteer Services Department,
in collaboration with other Hospital departments, has created
programs to support patient care and help keep patients at the
center of all we do. As stated in the literature, “The integration
of all therapies – peaceful and comforting surroundings, stress
reducers, caring health care providers, together with evidence based
medicine – creates a healing environment.” (Cleveland
Clinic Journal of Medicine, April 2009). We are proud of the
contributions we have made to enhance patient care.
Research studies have proven that encounters with therapy animals resulted in significant decreases in pain, respirator rate and negative mood state as well as a significant increase in perceived energy level. Hospital staff has even noted a reduction in their own stress (in addition to that of their patients) during pet therapy visits.
Pet therapy has become a standard of care and is available at
multiple other Partners hospitals. As a Hospital we tried many
years ago to start a pet therapy program which stalled. Patient
and family interest/requests sparked the Child Life Specialist
team and Volunteer Services to re-boot this effort in 2011.
To that end, we commenced a multidisciplinary committee to
create guidelines, examine best practices and address infection
control and other common concerns. As a result, we established
hand hygiene practices that all involved must follow, as well as,
vaccination and health screening/maintenance requirements for
the therapy dogs. Therapy dog handlers must curb their dogs
prior to entering the hospital. On the day of visitation, therapy
dog handlers must also brush the therapy dog prior to arriving
at the Hospital to minimize shedding and dander. All our dogs
are certified through the Pets and People Foundation which is
based in Weston, MA. Pets and People ensure that all dogs have
passed a temperament test and have gone through an orientation
preparing them for hospital visits.
Our official dog therapy pilot program began in September
2012 on the Pediatric Unit. A Child Life Specialist accompanied
the dog and handler on all visits for first few weeks. We surveyed
patients following a visit for the first three months to assess
program impact. We were pleased to see that the results were
incredibly positive. Due to the pilot’s success, we opened the
program to other units. Our second unit that welcomed a dog
therapy volunteer was 3 West in November 2013. In March
2014, we expanded the dog therapy program further to include
the Psychiatric Unit.
With encouragement from administration, a lobby piano was
purchased in June 2011 through generous donations made to
the hospital’s Charitable Foundation. There are many benefits of
music in someone’s life. It can reduce anxiety and stress; it slows
the pulse and heart rate; it has a soothing and relaxing effect; it
helps with concentration and focus; it improves moods and can
have an overall affect on improvement of the quality of life.
There have been regularly scheduled volunteers who come
to share their talents. The skill of these volunteers ranges from
Julliard trained and professional pianists to lounge pianists and
those that play recreationally. Volunteers are high school students,
working individuals, as well as those who are retired. One
individual is a student from the Perkins School for the Blind,
who has been playing piano since he was a young child.
Additionally, when no one is available, the piano plays on
its own and music can be selected through an on-line radio
In January 2013, we started a pilot program with Hearts and
Noses, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, with a mission to
bring a unique form of artistic and therapeutic medical clowning
to area hospitals. All clowns in their program require 70 hours
of educational and hands-on training. Working collaboratively
with Child Life Services, we chose 6 West as our pilot site and
welcomed three clowns to visit each week. The focus of these
unique volunteers was to provide improvisational play and empowerment
to patients. The organization’s motto is: “Clowning
is not about being funny; it is about the gift of presence.” We are
pleased to say that 112 children were seen during 2013. After
each visit the clowns document their interactions and provide
the information to both the Child Life Specialists and Volunteer
Services. This gives us a general sense of how the visits went.
Volunteer Programs to Support Patient Care
The word Reiki stands for REI = universal knowledge; KI = life
force energy. It is considered a noninvasive, light touch method
to transfer energy. The practice of Reiki is said to relax the body,
promote the body to heal itself, to decrease pain, to reduce stress,
increase the feeling of wellness and promote sleep and to diminish
the side effects of medical treatment. Our Reiki program started
in January 2011 in the Vernon Cancer Center (VCC). Since
then the program has been expanded to the Infusion Center
and Tanger 4 West. Reiki volunteers also take requests from
other departments. NWH has 15 active volunteers who have a
level 2 or reiki master certification. The program is supervised by
Wendy Caves, RN and staff member of the integrative therapy
program in the VCC.
Programs in the Department of Psychiatry
We are pleased that we have been able to run two different
programs on the Psychiatric Units. The first is an interactive
music program that was started by the volunteer, Mace Miller
in 2003. Mace brings patients together in the common room
to engage them in musical activity. He does this by bringing in
various household type items such as buckets, spoons etc. and
uses the items and his talents to explain rhythm and variety
in music. Mace has inspired several of the patients to consider
using their musical talents in different volunteer capacities.
A second program is yoga. Gretchen Daggett, volunteer,
started doing yoga with patients in March 2013 and comes in
weekly for half hour meditative yoga groups. Recently, a patient
asked for more information about yoga as the group sparked an
interest for her. Gretchen has been gracious enough to extend
her audience to any staff who would like to participate as well!
We are thrilled that the Hospital has welcomed all these
different programs and that volunteers can be involved in new
and different ways to “keep patients at the center.” For more
information about these supportive programs, please contact
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