HELP (Hospital Elder Life Program)

Between 30 and 50 percent of all hospitalized seniors experience challenges during their stay, including a decline in their mental and physical abilities. The Hospital Elder Life Program, developed at Yale University and now implemented at St. Mary’s Hospital, is a comprehensive patient-care program that lessens the decline that often comes with a hospital stay.

HELP’s highly trained volunteers make visits to our hospitalized seniors to provide extra attention and companionship. They make sure that important items such as glasses, hearing aids and call bells are within reach. They also provide opportunities to express needs and concerns.

Volunteers help with menu selection, cutting up food, opening cartons and encouraging eating and drinking when needed. Our volunteer staff keeps patients mentally stimulated through conversation, playing cards and word games, reading and reminiscing. They also provide simple exercises to help maintain movement, flexibility and strength in the muscles and joints.

Since 2013, the work of 44 HELP volunteers has provided 2,140 patient visits to 1,131 patients.

This is a report from one of our HELP volunteers who helps in our efforts to improve care for older adults.

"While helping to deliver papers at another hospital, I, at times, was torn between listening to patients who just needed company and delivering papers. When I read about the HELP program at St. Mary’s, I jumped at a chance to participate. The experience has been more rewarding than I expected. The coordinator of the program prepared volunteers for the experience and made sure we were comfortable with visiting patients and knew the routine when entering and leaving a room before we were on our own. The nurses are great at identifying patients who would like company or need a little help with meals. The bonus for me is meeting wonderful people and listening to the amazing stories they tell about their lives. I often wish I could tape them so their relatives could share them with future generations. An added blessing is hearing patients say, “Thank you, I didn’t think about my pain while I was talking to you.” Or “I’m glad you came. Will you come back?” They all praise the HELP Program, and so do I."    – Anne Fanell

For more information about HELP and how you can lend your support, contact Donna Spainhour at 804-287-7084 or