Ron Kelly

Today’s senior living communities put a lot of emphasis on addressing residents’ physical, medical and social needs through community events and amenities, but what about their emotional needs? What if a resident loses a spouse or a child? What if a resident goes to the hospital for a traumatic visit, but doesn’t have anyone to call?

At Presbyterian Village North, we’ve established unique programs to ensure that there is always someone for residents to talk to and share their feelings with so they don’t feel alone. Two programs that help address the emotional wellbeing of our residents are the “Journey Through Grief” support group and our Resident Emergency Advocacy Program.

Carolyn Mitchell, minister of spiritual life at PVN, collaborated with Valerie Sanchez, who serves as the director of bereavement and integrated therapies for Faith Presbyterian Hospice, to design a support group that would meet the residents’ needs in a time of loss. Grieving can be an isolating experience for many, as reactions to loss may be overwhelming and at times frightening. Grief support groups decrease isolation and offer a safe place to fully express emotions.

Most of the participants have lost a spouse, or some a child; however, there are other causes of grief, such as loss of health or parting with something that holds sentimental value, such as a parents’ house with 40 years of memories. A person may be struck by grief at any point in time, which can conjure up feelings of sadness or anger, even after a person thinks the grief is gone.  For many, simply having a few people listen to their story does much healing on its own.

The “Journey Through Grief” support group is intimate in size, consisting of five to eight members, and everyone makes a promise to keep the discussion confidential. The meetings last about an hour and 30 minutes.

Another program we offer is our Resident Emergency Advocacy Program, which ensures that residents do not travel to or stay at the hospital alone. When caregivers become a part of Presbyterian Communities & Services, a faith-based nonprofit organization comprised of Presbyterian Village North, Grace Presbyterian Village and Faith Presbyterian Hospice, they undergo special training to be an advocate. The advocacy support program provides active support to a Presbyterian Village North or Grace Presbyterian Village resident/patient during a health crisis at an area hospital emergency room, usually when family or designated care companions are not immediately available. Advocates also provide a caring service for the residents and their families by coordinating communication between the hospital and the senior living community. Advocates are assigned when the resident is an elder orphan, when family cannot be there within a reasonable amount of time, or when a medical emergency is determined to be critical and extra support is needed for the family.

The advocate is responsible for knowing the reason a resident is going to the hospital and which hospital he or she is being taken to, the room number at the senior living community, whether a family member or care companion is on the way, as well as contact information for medical power of attorney and estimated time of departure from the community, if the resident has not left yet. The advocate makes sure that the hospital staff is attending to the resident’s needs, such as getting a blanket if he or she is cold, helping the resident to the bathroom or providing beverages if he or she is thirsty. If the resident is discharged back to the community, the advocate ensures that the hospital has made transportation arrangements and communicates him or her to the community.

With programs like these in place, we can help our residents feel supported, safer and more composed, while giving their families peace of mind, too. Emotional well-being is just as important as physical and social well-being for residents to age successfully while living the best life possible.

Ron Kelly is executive director of Presbyterian Village North.