Volunteer Program Wins “High Impact” Award

The New England Association of Directors of Healthcare Volunteer Services (NEADHVS) chose the Institute of Living’s Peer Volunteer Program as the recipient of its annual President’s Award for Outstanding Program Development in the category of High Impact Volunteer Services.

NEADHVS is an affiliate chapter of the Association for Healthcare Volunteer Resource Professionals that works to develop, establish, recommend and implement best practice standards in healthcare volunteer services management. The award recognizes the IOL’s peer volunteer program as an innovative and effective initiative in the realm of volunteer work.

Nancy Hubbard, Laura Durst, Patricia Graham and Paula Rego.

“I want to recognize this vitally important work by the entire team,” said Dr. Stuart Markowitz, former president of Hartford Hospital and senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare. “You have a lot to be proud of and we are all so proud and thankful for this program and the impact it is having on our staff and our community.”

The program was implemented on the IOL campus in 2014 by Nancy Hubbard and Patricia Graham of the Family Resource Center. The program has vastly improved patient experience by incorporating individuals who have lived experience with mental illness into inpatient and outpatient environments.

“This is truly a wonderful and well-deserved recognition of a terrific program,” said Dr. Harold Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief at the Institute of Living and vice president of behavioral health for Hartford HealthCare. “The peer program is central to our increasing involvement in the recovery movement. This is a great example of leadership and discretionary effort.”

People living with mental illness often face discrimination, which may add to the belief they are alone in their suffering. Despite good intentions, friends, family and other members of the community may struggle to connect during these difficult times and unknowingly create an even deeper divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ based on their misperceptions of experience.

In this unique IOL program, volunteers work directly with patients in inpatient and outpatient settings, including the Emergency Department at Hartford Hospital. These remarkable volunteers, who each bring first-person knowledge and their own diverse experiences into their work, help instill hope and show that recovery is possible through peer-led support groups, one-on-one support and even yoga.

The formal and informal activities help patients feel less isolated and more connected to real people who have been through what they are going through. “By rejecting the ‘us and them’ mentality, the peer movement humanizes a patient and creates a reality where those suffering from mental illness can truly get better and lead more fulfilling lives,” said Patty Graham, case worker at the Family Resource Center.

Along with staff members Laura Durst and Paula Rego, and up to 30 peer volunteers, the Institute of Living is delivering important services typically found only in community settings.

The award was given during the NEADHVS annual spring conference in May. The Family Resource Center from the Institute of Living will present details of the program at the organization’s fall conference on October 27 in Nashua, New Hampshire.