Author Jonathan Brachman and Phil with Robert (center) during a in-reach visit.
As many Fountain House members know, a hospital stay can be an isolating and scary experience for the patient. Whether a person is sick mentally or physically, the patient often has trouble accessing the hospital resources that would help him or her improve. Also, while a member often enjoys good support while attending Fountain House, a hospitalized member may find that he is somewhat forgotten. The shortcoming of support is particularly dire in cases when the member does not have relatives who can help.
Fountain House members and staff are working together to develop new forms of outreach that offer more support to members who are outside the clubhouse. Activities that fill part of this need are mobile outreach, conference calls, and in-reach visits.
Fountain House mobile outreach aims to extend support by visiting Fountain House members who are in hospitals, nursing homes, or homebound. Members and staff travel to the ailing members and provide relief in the form of general support, advice, food, FH literature, and other benefits to ease their isolation and help them get well. Many times a kind gesture to the suffering member is all that is needed. Mobile outreach teams network with hospital or nursing home staff to help provide for the special needs that are common among FH members. Also, when the health care facility is aware that the patient has an advocate in Fountain House, the facility is much more inclined to treat the FH member better.
Education Unit Leader Susan Lieblich understood the need of reaching out to the sick and, about two years ago, started organizing monthly day trips by van to ailing members. Around this time, I independently started visiting hospitalized members by subway about once or twice a week. My initial efforts ended after only a few months, since planning many visits a month required a lot of time, and I did not have much help. Also, it was difficult to decide whom to visit, since in any given week there were about a dozen sick members. Later, I transferred to the Education Unit to work with Susan on mobile outreach. I augmented Susan’s work by taking groups by subway to visit sick members about twice a month. Former Fellow Sister Agnes and now Education Unit Worker Bevin Reilly have helped plan the visits
Last March we began coordinating conference calls among members and staff at the clubhouse and members who are in nursing homes, homebound, or otherwise can’t get to Fountain House. Norman Feldman, who arranges the calls, said that the conference calls allow members to say hi to people they know and keep in touch.
The idea for these conference calls came from a meeting with the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York (GMHANY). GMHANY made other suggestions, including considering ways of providing support to older members in the community before they become nursing home residents. Programs to help people stay at home rather than go to a nursing home are called Aging in Place programs. Some things that could comprise an Aging in Place program at Fountain House:
- Younger members could work as home health aides, doing housekeeping work for older members who are no longer able to. With help from the Employment and Education programs, this could also develop into paid work in the health care field..
- The Cook and Carry program that Culinary used to have could be revived as something similar to Meals on Wheels, which provides food to the age.
- Members and staff could make repairs to older members’ apartments.
- Employment could work with older members, who face age discrimination and other difficulties in finding work.
In-reach visits involve strengthening the bond between members residing in nursing homes and Fountain House by transporting the members to Fountain House for a day visit. Several members have made day visits, and we hope to eventually have an in-reach day every month, with a coffee club where older members can renew acquaintances.
We'd like mobile outreach, regular conference calls,and in-reach visits to become standard parts of outreach at Fountain House, just as other forms of outreach are currently standard.
Jonathan N. Brachman
Education Unit, Fountain House