Methodist Hospital Makes a Big Commitment to their HELP Program

"People tend to be in support of the HELP program because it makes a huge difference to our patients."

November 28, 2018
By Sandra Gordon for ASA

Since 2010, Park Nicollet’s Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has been committed the resources to making their HELP volunteer program run smoothly. “It’s a big undertaking,” says Amy Homstad, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services.

  • Starting with one inpatient unit and 12 volunteers, Methodist Hospital’s HELP program has expanded to 12 volunteers per day who perform daily and therapeutic visits. “We now serve patients on every unit except the birth place,” Homstad says. Most patients are 70 years and older, although anyone can receive HELP visits who might need them. The youngest patient at Methodist Hospital who benefitted from the HELP program was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for three weeks. She was just 36. Fortunately, she remained delirium-free during her hospital stay.
    Who are HELP Volunteers?
    Two specific groups of volunteers at Methodist Hospital staff the HELP team:
    Community volunteers, who account for about 30 percent of the HELP program, like Mary, who is retired and in her early 70s. Mary started with the HELP program at Methodist Hospital when it began. “She takes time off every winter and resumes her role in the spring. She’s been consistent and steady and always has a smile on her face,” Homstad says.
    Nursing students. The remaining 70 percent of the volunteers are nursing students from a local community college. The HELP program is built in to the nursing curriculum. The nursing students must commit to 100 hours per year to the HELP program to graduate.

All HELP volunteers see patients six days per week for three shifts per day. “We have a HELP presence in our hospital from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” says Paula Duncan, RN, an Elder Life specialist and coordinator of the hospital’s HELP program.

Training Program
All HELP volunteers participate in a 16-hour training program, which includes:

  • A new volunteer orientation, which covers basic hospital protocol, such as fire safety, infection prevention and providing the best possible patient experience.
  • HELP classroom-based training. Volunteers learn about the research behind the HELP program, how and why the program was created, and target interventions for reducing delirium that they’ll be performing, such as making sure patients take sips of water because dehydration is a risk factor for delirium, and what they can and can’t do. “Volunteers aren’t medical professionals, so we want to make sure they’re not crossing lines,” Duncan says.
  • Shadow shifts. Volunteers practice their skills by trailing a seasoned HELP volunteer for two patient shifts, for a total of eight hours of hands-on training. Then, they’re on their own. “It’s a big undertaking when you’re working with as many people as we are,” Duncan says, which adds up to roughly 3,800 HELP shifts annually.
    Making HELP Happen
    To implement a HELP program, Duncan offers this advice:
  • Get the materials. The program materials are available for free to everyone at That’s the first place to start.
  • Partner with colleagues. “All of us are a cog in the wheel for our patients,” Duncan says. “Educate your colleagues, including respiratory therapy, nutrition, pharmacy, the lab, the nursing staff and other physicians about delirium prevention.” The more people you get on your side, the more likely you are to make HELP services available to patients.
  • Find somebody with a passion about delirium prevention in your organization. Ask that person if he or she will volunteer to get the HELP program going. “You need somebody with a passion to keep the program going,” Duncan says. “Every organization has someone with this passion.”
  • Don’t just sit in a room and talk about the HELP program forever. “Get out there and do something,” Duncan says. Homstad adds: “Start small. Start with one unit and really get your processes in place.” Expand from there.

Overall, “it takes everyone to make HELP successful,” Homstad says. “We need the nurses on the floor to identify the patients who are appropriate for HELP and we need to volunteers to make a regular commitment. But once you get that kind of infrastructure in place, people tend to be in support of the HELP program because it makes a huge difference to our patients.”



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