Because she was a nurse for almost 30 years, Maryellen Garnier has a special insight into the medical needs of patients, their families and her fellow nurses. Now the hospital's chaplain as well as an ordained Episcopal priest, Chaplain Garnier has used her knowledge and insight to develop an innovative spiritual care program that has become a vital bridge between the families of very ill patients and the nurses who take care of them.
In today's modern hospital, the sights and sounds of lifesaving technology, especially in the intensive care unit, can dominate the environment. Ventilators whir, monitors beep, alarms sound. Research shows that visitors of patients in the Intensive Care Unit do not always fare well in such an environment: Already stressed by a loved one's critical illness, they are often frightened and bewildered. Visiting times are limited, and conversations with caregivers can be interrupted by the priority needs of the patient.
The intensity of this kind of patient care affects staff as well. Nurses who go into the profession to provide compassionate care to patients may find themselves tired, overwhelmed and emotionally drained.
Chaplain Garnier was asked to find a way to make the environment in the Emergency Department and the ICU better for both families and staff. Her answer: the unique Care Companions program, which consists of specially trained volunteers with backgrounds in psychosocial care. During a typical shift, a Care Companion will talk with families in the waiting room, be with them in the ICU to explain what is happening when alarms sound, for example, or to support them when nurses and physicians rush to the patient's bedside.
By helping the families, Care Companions help staff as well. Nurses need advocates, too, Chaplain Garnier says. "They do so much more than we can ever appreciate," she says. "With help like this, they are able to refocus on the compassionate side of nursing--revitalizing both themselves and their profession."
To find out more about the Care Companion program or to volunteer in the hospital's spiritual care program, call 650-988-7568.
Chaplain Garnier retired from El Camino Hospital in January of 2013.