HELP Program Data Shows Significant Reduction in Delirium Rate at Howard Young

March 23, 2017

Patients who are admitted to the hospital can often be confused as the result of their injury or illness, environment, treatment regiments or other circumstances surrounding their admission.

For older patients, delirium is one of the most common complications for hospitalized patients.

At Howard Young Medical Center, part of Ascension, the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) is an internationally coordinated model of care provided by a team of clinicians and volunteers who are specially trained to support patients over the age of 70 or anyone who may show signs of delirium after an assessment.

“Hospitalization can be a critical point in the life of an older person and Howard Young launched this program in 2011 with a delirium rate of about 25-percent,” said Dawn McPherson, RN, MSN, geriatric clinical coordinator for the HELP program. “Thanks to the dedicated efforts of our associates and volunteers and the success of our program, we closed out 2016 with a delirium rate of less than four percent.”

McPherson adds that the major goals of the HELP program are to help patients maintain cognitive and physical functioning during their hospitalization, allow them to be discharged as independent as possible, assist with the transition from the hospital to the community and prevent unplanned readmissions.

“New hospital patients who are 70 or older are evaluated soon after admission,” said McPherson. “A care plan is then developed to provide frequent interaction and targeted interventions during their hospital stay.”

In 2016, more than 550 patients were enrolled in HELP at Howard Young which is one of more than 200 facilities across the country to offer the program. Its success led to the expansion of HELP to fellow Ascension facility Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital in 2012.

Volunteers play a crucial, central role in the HELP program by carrying out interventions directly at the bedside. The interventions center on risk factors that elderly patients face during hospitalization. Some are universal, but others are individual to each patient and can involve vision or hearing impairment; sleep deprivation; immobility; dehydration, cognitive impairment or medication interaction. 

“This program gives volunteers a level of responsibility and patient interaction that is unique among hospital programs,” said Deb Karow, vice president of Patient Care Services at Howard Young Medical Center.  “We would not be able to achieve this level of success without the dedicated efforts of our associates and volunteers working together to create a friendly environment by providing sympathetic support, encouragement and companionship to older patients and their families.”

About 25 volunteers provided more 1,300 hours of service in 2016 and more than 6,000 hours over the life of the program. Howard Young’s HELP volunteers include retired teachers, nurses, social workers and even high school and college students who have completed specialized training.

One of those dedicated volunteers is Nancy Krause of Arbor Vitae. “I always find a connection with the patients and meet so many nice people. I always leave each room feeling like I made a difference,” said Krause.

McPherson also says the topic of delirium prevention is important for the community.  

That’s one reason why Howard Young and several other Ministry Health Care facilities in the Northwoods participate in the Northern Wisconsin Continuum of Care Coalition. More than twenty agencies participate in the coalition whose purpose is to improve the quality of care for community members who transition between health care settings.

“With an increasing aging population, it’s important for us to work together to understand concerns and needs and share knowledge of best practices to achieve exceptional outcomes for our patients,” added McPherson.


To learn more about HELP or if you are interested in volunteering in the program at Howard Young Medical Center or Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital, contact McPherson at 715.356.8305. 

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