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Hospital Sitters: Critical Care for Older Patients

By Nikhil Mehta

A critical place to have a caregiver with you is during a hospital stay. People find this a surprising concept. You would think that having nurses, doctors and medical staff close by would make hospitals one of the safest places to be. Sadly, this isn’t the case. With one or two busy nurses, working 12-hour shifts and handling many patients, it can be a long wait between when you push a call button until someone comes to check on you. Plus, it only takes an instant for a dangerous fall to occur. Ten percent of fatal falls for older adults occur in hospitals. Dementia, disorientation and medication are the leading factors that contribute to falls in hospitals.

The best safety precaution is a caregiver known as a hospital sitter. Hospital sitters provide round-the-clock companionship and make observations of any problems the patient may be having. Sitters monitor and keep the patient company, converse and read to or even run errands for the patient. However, sitters cannot aid or participate in any patient care or physical contact and must stay out of the way of hospital staff. Hospital sitters work under the direction of the patient registered nurse. In the event of an urgent patient need, a fall or a medical emergency, the sitter will be there to immediately summon the nurse in charge. Hospital administrators are so concerned about safety risks that they even hire hospital sitters to watch over their high-profile patients, especially those who have made major donations to the hospital. A physician may prescribe a continuous, one-to-one sitter for patients who have an impaired ability to understand or follow directions or who are unable to realize that they could potentially harm themselves.

While safety is critically important, hospital sitters do more than help prevent falls and alert nurses to medical emergencies. “Raw companionship is great medicine,” says Dr. Myrna Lee, a physician at Mt. Zion Medical Center. “Despite so many busy people running around, hospitals are lonely places.” Knowing another person is in the room watching over them–especially if it’s someone familiar like a regular caregiver–makes patients feel more secure and makes a hospital room more human.

One of the most helpful tasks that sitters can do is to keep a journal. Sitters can record doctor visits/outcomes that occur during their shift, describe any procedures done and the expected and actual outcomes, as well as observations of the patient. Sitters can also maintain emergency contact information for the patient’s family, as well as essential legal documents–including a copy of the patient’s Advanced Directives, in case a relative is unable to be contacted for a critical decision. Hospital sitters provide peace of mind for the patient’s family. They supply vigilance that ensures safety and companionship that reduce a patient’s boredom and depression. They also enable the patient’s family to go home and rest, knowing their loved one will never be alone.

Nikhil Mehta is Owner/CEO of Home Care Assistance Palm Desert, a revolutionary in-home care group which offers clients The Balanced Care Method™ which emphasizes mental, physical and social activity along with healthy nutrition, calmness and purpose. For more information visit www.HomeCareAssistancePalmDesert.com or call (760) 345.0001.

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