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July / August 2011
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Ambulation Ambassadors Encourage Patients to Stay Active During Hospital Stay

In June, Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) introduced a new program connecting volunteers with patients in an effort to promote mobility and speed recovery during a patient's hospital stay. Known as the Footprints Ambulation Program, this unique initiative has already made a positive impact on patients and staff alike on units 5 East and 6 East.

Findings indicate that patients who ambulate early and frequently during a hospital stay may experience improved clinical outcomes, including a shorter hospitalization. Dina Lipowich, director of Medical Nursing and Inpatient Geriatrics, explains that the number one goal of this program is to get patients out of bed to avoid the deconditioning of muscles that is often a result of inactivity associated with prolonged bed rest.

"We want to preserve our patients' functional abilities and maintain their independence, which is particularly important to our geriatric patient population," says Lipowich. "We're committed to returning patients back to their homes, or previous care facilities, with the same functional abilities and independence as when they arrived at NCH."

To accomplish this, specially-trained volunteers (Footprints Ambulation Ambassadors) serve as motivational coaches who promote exercise and encourage patients to step out of bed for walking sessions. The Ambassadors escort patients around the unit while cheering them on to achieve greater distance or extended walking time.

Close oversight by clinical staff allows the Ambassadors to interact with patients in a safe and highly supervised environment. Patients who qualify are medically stable, steady on their feet and communicative.

A relationship formed between Ambassadors and patients can make a positive difference to the recovery process while also increasing satisfaction scores. Lipowich explains that the clinical environment can be intimidating for some patients who feel restricted to their rooms and fear interfering with busy nursing workflow in the halls.

"In the company of Ambassadors, however, patients feel confident and motivated to ambulate in the hallways, getting much needed exercise to speed their recovery," she says. "Our Ambassadors truly impact patients at a critical point in their hospitalization, ease their sense of vulnerability, and strengthen their confidence both physically and mentally."

The specialized role of these ambulation volunteers has become a valued resource for clinicians, too. Not only are Ambassadors helping unit staff to achieve patient ambulation goals, their presence allows clinicians to focus on the highly technical duties that require nursing licenses and certification to perform.

With more than 35 volunteers trained as Footprints Ambulation Ambassadors, Lipowich is looking to grow the program housewide and possibly expand the circle of Ambulation Ambassadors to include friendly canines from the NCH Animal-Assisted Therapy program. Recent studies have demonstrated that the use of a volunteer and an animal-assisted therapy dog significantly increased the motivation of heart failure patients. Recovery times decreased and patients returned to baseline function sooner.

"Much has changed in our understanding of the positive benefits of physical activity in speeding up recovery and preventing complications of hospitalized patients. With very few medical conditions actually calling for the prescription of 'bed rest', our toughest challenge is to encourage and motivate patients to exercise their muscles as soon as they are able, even when they least feel like it," says Lipowich.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009