Wellness begins with ‘we’

When someone is in trouble, I think the first thing they want to hear is “I’ll take You.” The word “hospitality” begins with “hospital” and ends in “ity.” ITY = I’ll Take You. It is reassuring to know that the hospital will take you in when things in your life go wrong and you are stressed out by life without rest or relief. Sometimes people end up in the emergency room mainly due to having no place to go during a crisis.

From my perspective as an advocate for the poor and providing direct services to the severely mentally ill and the prior substance abusers of our communities in Sussex County, I see some of our most vulnerable down-state Delawareans falling through the cracks of our social support system.

Our self-help (people helping people) center is set up to welcome the stranger who feels isolated with nowhere else to turn when in need for support. The A.C.E. CENTER provides an immediate place at the table for people who fall through the cracks of our healthcare system. We look into their eyes at our front door and say “we see you.” We are open 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday and there is no appointment necessary and there are no fees.

There is immediate engagement and a searching for an answer to the crisis at hand. Are you thirsty? Do you need a hot shower? Are you hungry? Do you have a doctor? Do you need to fill a prescription? Do you need transportation? A drink of cool water? A hug? A bus pass? Do you need to take a nap? Someone is the hallway at the ACE Center serves as the person’s “fixer-er” who navigates the person in need toward some immediate answers to change the crisis into a solve-able problem that we can all work on together. We do all the non-medical tasks and then refer the medical tasks to our community health center, La Red. If items are needed some of us jump on social media to resource the community. We discuss shared living and ride sharing ideas. We gather together the needed provisions for immediate survival. We reach out to our network of caring community members and the needy stranger we just met gets plugged in with our known networks of love and kindness.

Life is messy but we learn the most by sitting with the person in need. I think we need to create more welcoming places with no appointment necessary staffed with volunteers with lived experience. We need a place that is always open and ready to serve anyone in need immediately. We have lots of potential loving “hallway monitor” folks who will meet the “patient” right at the door and sit next to them in the “comfort room” to quietly talk about the crisis. We may need to provide care to folks who are having a “bad thinking day” or maybe it turns out to be just a bad hair day.

These welcoming places should be universal and general in scope and placed in every community. A close example of this kind of place was executed this past winter in communities across Delaware. We call them “code purple sanctuary” locations which opened to keep people from freezing to death. But our healthy welcome centers would be open all year long, not just in the freezing weather. It would be a “welcome center to a better life.” A population self-management health and wellness coaching center where you could learn proper nutrition, take your blood sugar or monitor your blood pressure or do a host of other wellness and health related tasks. We could work together to reduce sugar consumption and to learn how to quit smoking cigarettes or to learn a sober way of life.

Remember the “candy-strippers” of the past in the hospitals who were the “hospitality” providers doing whatever it took to fill in the gaps between treatments and doctor’s orders? They worked as part of a hospital team to make a person feel welcome and cared for.

We need to re-invent the candy-strippers and bring back kindness and compassion at the front door of a new kind of welcoming “I’ll take you” place. I also think that a patient-centered approach needs to start with love and kindness and stay with a loving approach all the way through the healthcare delivery process.

UBER (the new taxi APP) is an example of placing the power back in the hands of the “customer.”

In healthcare, the customer is the patient. In a UBERIZED healthcare system, where can I go where I will feel welcome and cared for?

Where can I go for a shoulder to cry on?

Where can I go to use the bathroom, cook up a nice meal and also check my blood sugar? Where can I go for a free WIFI connection … a cool drink … a safe place … a place to search for a new job or a new place to live?

Where can I go to take a nap … to take a hot shower …to find a band-aid or soft clean bandage for this open wound?

Where can I go to learn about how to make a healthy meal, to quit smoking, to exercise with others and to have fun?

Where can I go to meet new friends?

Where can I go to find kindness, compassion and love?

Where can I go to feel accepted? Where can I go to self-manage my own chronic health conditions and find the resources I need?

I am now volunteering as a community representative on an exciting Delaware Libraries project to create a new cell phone APP called del-AWARE. This new APP would provide immediate information about nearby resources for the homeless in a certain community. Perhaps we could come up with a new APP for healthcare patients and consumers with up to the moment data and information related to their healthcare plan and locations where healthcare tasks can be delivered or accomplished within a close distance for the patient. Wellness begins with “we.”

Editor’s Note: Jim Martin is a recovering addict who has established nearly two three-quarter houses, founder of the A.C.E. (Acceptance Change Empowerment) Peer Resource Center/Haven at the Peer Residence and is among the facilitators of the Sussex County Action Prevention Coalition.

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