New program makes big difference at Manchester Memorial

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Joan Simmons, a volunteer in the Patient Family Experience Team, and Diane Morey, manager of volunteer services at ECHN. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
Joan Simmons, a volunteer in the Patient Family Experience Team, and Diane Morey, manager of volunteer services at ECHN. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

In the modern healthcare field, patients are often discharged so quickly that by the time staff learns of a complaint or problem the patient was having, they have already left. But at Manchester Memorial Hospital, an important initiative in quality control has been made to ensure that every patient receives the best care and comfort that can be given them: the creation of the Patient Family Experience Team.

“This program was designed to take care of our patients' needs before they leave the hospital,” said Diane Morey, manager of volunteer services at ECHN. The team is composed of a group of non-medical volunteers who interact with patients, address any concerns as soon as possible, and see to the general comfort of each patient. When patients are approached by a member of the team, they are greeted by someone they can relate to – someone who has time to talk.

As with all teams, it is only as good as its members, and Morey considers herself blessed with many high-quality volunteers. One of those volunteers is Joan Simmons, of South Windsor.

A shift for Simmons may include going into the rooms of patients and asking them how their day is going. She makes sure patients know how to contact the nurse, use the controls on their beds, use the television. At the same time, she gathers feedback from the patients about particularly good staff, so that exceptional nurses and aides are recognized.

Simmons loves the work and always enjoys the people she encounters and stories she hears. “It's so interesting to sit back and listen to their stories and learn about their lives and their experiences,” said Simmons. Working on the orthopedic operations floor, she often speaks with elderly patients. Be it the teacher of 40 years or the gentleman predicting the rude awakening in store for 20-somethings about to find out “what life is really like,” Simmons is always delighted to chat with patients. “It's nice to get involved in their lives and hear what they're doing,” she said. And for an elderly patient, lonely and perhaps frightened, that conversation could make an enormous difference.

Not every patient Simmons encounters has a positive attitude, however. “As soon as I see someone like that, I make it my goal: ‘You know what? I’m going to make him laugh before I leave this room.’ And you really can do that,” she said.

Simmons always wanted to volunteer. Then came the day when she stopped wanting to volunteer and began volunteering. She contacted Morey in August and asked how she could help. This was the same time that Morey was filling the new Patient Family Experience Team, which was created by Quality Control Manager Peggy Basch. Morey saw in Simmons a perfect fit for the new program.

Simmons immersed herself in the role, and according to Morey, goes beyond what is asked of her. If she sees that a patient wants a drink of water and the nurses are too busy, she will do it herself. “She is just elaborating on this particular job and making it bigger and better, and really serving our patients well,” said Morey.

For her part, Simmons is energized by her service. “I find it uplifting,” she said. “I'm a positive person anyway, but to come in here, it just makes things more positive.” She always looks forward to her volunteer time, and misses it after she leaves.

There are seven people in the Patient Family Experience Team, and Morey’s goal is to grow it at Manchester Memorial and expand it to Rockville Hospital. “It takes a certain type of person,” said Morey. Volunteers should be good listeners, and able to read people's feelings. Kindness and empathy are must-have qualities, as the job is not about the volunteer – it's about the patient.

“Nothing is about you,” said Simmons. “You have to be the type of person who puts others’ needs before your own.”

Retired professionals such as teachers and nurses will be right at home in the position. Those with a background in customer service will also thrive. Moyer has many dedicated volunteers like Simmons, and hopes more will come on board to grow the Patient Family Experience Team.

“It’s good for the hospital, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the patients,” she said. To volunteer to be part of the Patient Family Experience Team, call Morey at 860-647-6841.

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