If These Walls Could Talk
In a hospital regarded for its excellence in patient care, caring comes in many forms—all of it delivered with open hearts and open hands.
The voice you’re most aware of as you walk through the doors of Overlook Hospital is probably your own—that small voice that plays in your mind when you’re anxious, unsure, full of questions. But the first voice you actually hear—steady and strong and soothing—probably belongs to a patient liaison who greets you with a smile, seemingly offering the outstretched arms that the brick-and-mortar hospital itself cannot.
“People are a little intimidated when they come through those doors,” acknowledges patient liaison Danny McDuffie. “My job is to make them feel good. I believe that people live by encouragement. When I bring them a positive attitude, they feel good about being here.”
A few feet away from where McDuffie stands, at the phone and information desk, you may find Barbara Slavin “getting people where they need to go,” as she describes it. “We guide them wherever they need to go,” she says. “If they need assistance, we get that for them too.”
That’s exactly what Kristen Houghton set out to achieve in the hospital’s bright, recently renovated lobby. “We wanted to make sure that everyone who walks through our doors is welcomed and made to feel welcome,” she says. As Overlook’s manager of patient satisfaction, volunteer services, and special projects, Houghton oversees the patient liaisons and services that provide so many of the hospital’s personal touches—everything from volunteer piano players in the lobby to liaisons who track down lost items, to the St. Hubert’s pet-therapy dogs that set patients at ease and soothe their stress.
“Our patient liaisons are there to make sure that patients’ non-clinical needs are being met,” she says. “They tighten up communication between the patient and the clinical staff by relaying patient needs and reaching out to other areas where a patient may need help.” For some, that may mean a visit from a volunteer who extends her own hands to massage a patient’s hands; for others, it may mean sitting beside a patient and keeping them engaged with a book or a game or with pleasant conversation to prevent the onset of delirium.
Also supporting the needs of Overlook patients and staff is the Overlook Hospital Auxiliary, more than 500 strong. Its 23 individual chapters, or “Twigs,” raise funds for the overall good of Overlook Hospital, explains co-president Amanda Ford. Members decorate the hospital for the holidays, increase organ-donor awareness, and volunteer to staff the Gift Shop & Bloom in the hospital’s lobby. Its group of Busy Bees, as some members are known, distribute puppets and teddy bears on pediatric floors and make blankets and caps for newborns. “We do a lot of little things behind the scenes,” says Ford, “and they make a big difference.”
Houghton’s troop makes a difference in the lives of Overlook staff members, too, making sure that their needs are being met and that their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated. “We say that our staff never knows when they’re going to be renewed,” she remarks. “Our Renewal Program sends gift baskets full of goodies to our units, and the hand massagers too. We even had our stairwells painted and outfitted with artwork to encourage our staff to take the stairs instead of the elevators, to promote health and wellness.”
On the frontlines of patient health and wellness, of course, are the hospital’s nurses who apply their expert skills and caring touch to treat every patient. “We have extraordinarily trained nurses here, and a retention rate of more than 96 percent,” says Chief Nursing Officer Mary Pat Sullivan. “These are hard jobs that our nurses have. We trust them with our patients’ lives and families’ lives. But our nurses love what they do, and they really feel connected to the hospital. They know they are an integral part of the hospital’s goals and they make sure that that vision gets realized, by being intricately involved with quality initiatives.”
Quality, in fact, is a hallmark of Overlook Hospital, whether it’s in the subtle details that make a patient’s stay more pleasant—or as part of larger initiatives that save lives. “We are absolutely committed to providing safe care for every patient,” says Tina Maund, MS, RN, CPHQ, director of Performance Improvement for Overlook Hospital and Atlantic Health. “Decades ago, quality initiatives were reactive, and quality was seen as separate and distinct instead of being integrated in the way patients were cared for. Today, quality is about being proactive, and it’s in everything we do.”
Everything indeed, from checking and rechecking patient identifications, to implementing an automated medication management system that ensures the right patient is receiving the right medication in the correct dosage at the proper time. “Patients and their families work collaboratively with our staff to ensure safety and quality of care.”
Or, as patient liaison McDuffie puts it, “The facility provides the good health and healing. I provide the security. And I never know when I’m going to be able to touch a person’s heart.”
To learn more about volunteering at Overlook Hospital, call (888) 279-5108.