By Tamarah Feder
Volunteers make up a significant part of the MUHC family. Their caring and generosity of spirit help alleviate a patient’s experience and ease the load of staff. In return, volunteers are rewarded with the knowledge that they can have a very direct and positive impact on their community. In this new section, we will take a closer look at the many volunteer programs and individuals who are making a difference in the lives of patients and staff at the MUHC.
It’s no secret that food is a necessity of life and, quite often, it is an equally important social event that allows us to connect with others. But for patients in a hospital-room setting, that human connection can be muted, often negatively affecting a patient’s appetite. But thanks to the approximately 15 volunteers with the Silver Spoons program, patients at the Montreal Neurological Hospital (MNH) and the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) are benefitting from having someone keep them company and offer gentle assistance during their meals.
The program, now in its 12th year, was launched by Volunteer Services in response to staff who noted that many patients were struggling with simple tasks or who just needed some company. Some patients may have a diminished appetite due to their condition or medications, while others may be experiencing limited physical abilities following a stroke or due to tremors. Consequently, they may be unable to open a container or easily cut their food, or they may feel frustrated or isolated. But with a trained helpful hand and a friendly presence, Silver Spoon volunteers can encourage patients to eat and even foster a greater sense of independence and empowerment. They can also alert the nurses to any mealtime issues that might need attention.
In addition to the general orientation that all volunteers undergo, Silver Spoons volunteers are given special training that includes guidelines on how to approach patients, a tour of the unit, and introductions to unit staff. They are also shown an orientation video about mealtime assistance and its importance, as well as tips and techniques.
“Since the implementation of the program, our volunteers have been able to make a meaningful contribution in meeting the needs of the patients and easing the demands on the medical staff. Their help with seemingly simple tasks and friendly conversation goes a long way to enhancing the quality of life for our patients,” observed Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Vezina. Geoffrey Cheng who has been volunteering with the program for over three years observed, "I think this program is really good for patients. They have a lot on their mind, and providing extra company and assistance during mealtimes can make a big difference. And for me, it’s rewarding to hear their stories and see the smiles when I visit.".