Skip to main content

Hospitalization is hard on the elderly.

Long inpatient stays increase the chances of an elderly person developing delirium and too much time in bed can impede mobility and put the patient at a higher risk for a fall. For these reasons, Michael DiMare, operations manager of rehabilitation services at Geisinger Wyoming Valley (GWV) and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre (GSWB), has been looking to develop a volunteer program to provide companionship and early mobility for older patients at GSWB.

He cites the statistics. Elderly hospitalized patients with volunteer companions experience significant reductions in delirium and the rate of falls is reduced by as much as 42%. In addition to these positive outcomes, there are cost-savings. Companionship programs saved between $1,600–$3,800 per patient for hospital costs and over $16,000 per person-year for long-term care costs in the year following delirium. “Volunteer direct patient care is very beneficial,” he said. “I envisioned volunteers who would get patients out of bed, assist with meals, provide companionship, make sure their glasses and hearing aides are on and in use  and get them moving.”

In March, officials from Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s School of Graduate Education helped kick off a program at GSWB that realizes DiMare’s dream. The program, developed by DiMare, Tina McDowell, director of volunteer services, and Len Farber, GCSOM’s director of career engagement, creates a steady flow of MBS student volunteers to GSWB who will work four-hour shifts doing anything from playing cards or doing puzzles with the patients to helping them to Facetime family members or just taking a walk with them down the hall.

At an orientation event held March 24, four students in the School of Medicine’s Master of Biomedical Sciences (MBS) program met with the GSWB care team, toured the hospital campus and received initial instruction on some of the tasks they will perform as volunteers.

For the students, the experience provides educational enrichment opportunities too good to miss. MBS student Aaron Piavis has worked with the elderly as a crisis counselor at Community Counseling Services of NEPA. He said, “I think that a lot of problems in the geriatric population can be solved by this simple act of totally devoting yourself to getting to know each patient. I believe the GSWB program is the perfect opportunity to further cultivate a holistic approach to patient interaction, get a chance to spend quality time with some interesting folks, and develop meaningful connections with them and the healthcare team.”

Relationship building is also important to MBS student, Marissa McHale. “I am looking forward to developing meaningful relationships with the entire care team,” she said. “Dr. (Karlyn) Paglia, GWV and GSWB’s chief medical officer, spoke with us at the orientation, and she is committed to providing mentorship and has asked the team to include us in things like discussions of interesting findings. She asked us to be ‘fresh eyes’ on the patient and to speak with the team if we see any changes.”

McHale worked as a nurse aide before enrolling in the MBS program with an eye toward applying to medical school. “I fell in love with caring for the elderly as a nurse aide,” she said. “So, this opportunity is very exciting for me. The staff at GSWB has been so welcoming and they seem eager to instruct us. I know I want to pursue a career in medicine, and I enjoy working with the elderly, so maybe I’ll specialize in geriatrics. It’s definitely a possibility.”

GSWB, GCSOM form volunteer program to aid elderly patients
Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre nurse educator, Kim Caruso, RN orients new student volunteers, from left Mariah Panoussi, Marissa McHale, Uzoamaka Eziri and Aaron Piavis. The students, all members of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine's MBS Class of 2021, are part of program that provides graduate students with opportunities to gain relevant clinical experience while providing services to elderly hospital inpatients that are proven to reduce the incidence of dementia and falls in this population.