Photo: L to r: Florence Yip, Volunteer Resources coordinator; Leo Gosselin, vocational rehabilitation coordinator; Angela, client volunteer; David; volunteer; Julie, client volunteer; Caitlin Miller; John Howard Society outreach worker
For tertiary mental health clients receiving inpatient care at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), transitioning back into the community after discharge can be challenging.
“We all want what my clients want," says Leo Gosselin, vocational rehabilitation coordinator at the Willow Pavilion and Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre at VGH. “To go to school, have a job, be part of a community and to feel needed."
Leo works with clients living with severe mental illness and substance use with educational, volunteer and employment opportunities that will better prepare them for reintegrating into their communities. He explains that psychosocial rehabilitation is an approach to psychiatric care that helps people develop personal, social and vocational competency in order to live as independently as possible in their own homes and communities.
In an effort to create more of these valuable educational and work experience opportunities for his clients, Leo jumped at the chance to partner with Volunteer Resources on a new Staxi chair initiative.
In a large, multi-building hospital site such as VGH, Staxi chairs—stackable chairs on wheels intended for temporary use—are often in short supply and high demand.
“We have around 30 Staxi chairs [at VGH]," says Volunteer Resources coordinator Florence Yip. “They are used when a patient or family member is unable to walk, for hospital discharge or after a patient finishes a procedure."
Since there is currently no way to monitor the chairs, Florence says they are often found offsite, which directly impacts patients and teams at VGH who need them.
“The good news is that we have a plan to improve access based on the principle of shared responsibility," she says. This plan included collaborating with Leo and the tertiary mental health clients at Willow and Segal to help hunt down the Staxi chairs.
As part of their care plan during their stay at VGH, clients are given unpaid assignments that include collecting Staxi chairs on the ground and first floors of Jim Pattison Pavilion and Leon Judah Blackmore Pavilion, cleaning them and returning them to the corral by the Information Desk.
“The clients are trained by the coordinator of Volunteer Resources and a few other experienced volunteers," says Florence. “So far, we have trained three clients and they have been extremely helpful in increasing accessibility of Staxi chairs for our patients."
Volunteers earn a Therapeutic Volunteer Honorarium, an important accomplishment for clients that can improve their sense of accomplishment, self-worth and ability to engage in the community.
Leo explains how volunteer opportunities have long-term benefits for clients. Volunteering helps build valuable social skills, confidence and self-esteem, and can assist with strength, mobility and hand-eye coordination. It is also a way to initiate a soft transition to another volunteer job in the community.
Clients Angela, Julie and David have been volunteering with the program since its inception in June 2019, and have already experienced benefits.
“Volunteering gets me up and out of my room, and keeps me active for the rest of my day," says Julie. “It keeps me motivated. I'm getting to know people at the hospital and learning about new opportunities."
David, a former tertiary mental health client who has since successfully transitioned back into the community, continues to volunteer with Leo and his peers and is gaining valuable life skills he can add to his resume.
“My job is awesome!" he says. “I am getting some Canadian work experience and I feel energized and focused when I am here. Afterward, I feel very happy and productive."
(Photo right: Client volunteers Angela, David and Julie)
The program has had a positive reception for VGH clients, volunteers, staff and patients who rely on the Staxi chairs on a daily basis. While the initiative is the first partnership between a community mental health program and Volunteer Resources, Florence says their team is grateful for the help and is enthusiastic for future partnerships.
“We can't do it alone," she says. “There's so much we can do, inside and out. Small tasks make a big difference and give people meaning."
For Leo and his team, providing experiences to build healthy connections in the community is imperative to improving motivation and instilling hope in his clients.
“There are not many opportunities in the community for the clients we serve," Leo says. “So this partnership means a great deal."