Improving the Mental Health of Hospital Patients with Poetry
I, Renee Aziz, the Founder and Co-President of Poetry Pals, proudly standing in my volunteering uniform and badge.
This is where Poetry Pals has planted its seeds: Regional Medical Center
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Date You Started Your Project Started
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)
1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Hospitals provide care for the sick and disabled, but they do not always properly tend to patients' mental health. Some hospital patients are deprived of social interaction because they lack people willing to converse with them. Patients may feel hopeless at hospitals, and a patient's will to be treated and heal within the hospital is essential to the healing process. This issue plagues almost all hospitals, threating the lives of our community.
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Poetry Pals solves mental health issues within hospitals by reading poetry and short stories as well as conversing with patients. We are an established 501(c)3 nonprofit that has chapters across California's Bay Area. We visit patients who may not have any family and provide them the chance to talk to someone. During a hospital stay, it can be hard to keep one’s spirits up, especially when there may not be someone there for support. We aim to provide someone with the aid they need and be a light in an otherwise challenging time in their life where they may feel alone. The steps we take to meet every patient's individual needs are to introduce ourselves to him or her and build a connection. From that connection, we can build a rapport and get to know the patient. If the patient cannot respond back, we will start to read poems or short stories to the patient. Communicating with the patient, even if he or she cannot respond back, makes a patient feel like he or she is a valid person who is cared for. Making this kindred connection can make a patient feel worthy and encourage him or her to proceed with medical treatment.
3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
More than a year ago, I met a woman with hollow blue eyes who told me that she absolutely loved me within ten minutes of knowing her. Bonnie was an Alzheimer's resident at VITAS Hospice. When ever I tried to interact with her, she would share at me blankly, as if she did not understand what was going on. As I began to give up conversing with her, she interrupted the silence by whispering, "I love you," as small tears formed on her aging cheeks. I'll never forget how just by talking to her, I made her feel content. As an ICU volunteer, I have seen many patients screaming for attention and wanting to leave against medical advice. We can ensure that the wan and injured heal properly in a more stable mental health condition by making them feel loved. By interacting with patients like Bonnie, we can conjure a sense of belongingness and encourage healthy recoveries within our communities.
5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
During the pilot program for our nonprofit, we met a homeless man, moaning in bandages that swaddled his limbs and his ability to leave. This poor man ached to leave the hospital due to his feeling of hopelessness; he wanted to leave against medical advice. Jason, my fellow Co-President, and I encouraged him to stay by reading a poem about equality to him and stressing that he is worthy to medically improve. The goal of our nonprofit is to bring comfort to patients who are lonely and may need human interaction. We build a connection with our patients, in order to provide patients social interaction and a kindred spirit to converse with. We blossom positive mindsets in our patients’ minds, but we also influence the lives of our own volunteers. We increase the awareness of today’s youth, exposing high schoolers to people of all backgrounds.
6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
While some doctors or pastors may read poetry or converse with patients, nothing compares to today's youth improving the mental health of the wan and injured. Children can encourage better improvements in patients' mental health because patients may be reminded of their own childhood, sparking positive and innocent conversations. Additionally, this program allows youth to see the direct impacts their service can have on the community. By potentially making a patient's treatment more efficient, high schoolers might feel satisfied by seeing the mark their service brings to the community.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
We currently volunteer at Regional Medical Center in San Jose where we are accomplishing our mission of improving the lives of patients. The biggest difference we have made is in the lives of patients who do not have family able to visit them. One homeless man comes to mind when I think of the difference we make. He had become hopeless and distraught over his situation and wished to leave the hospital early. We came in and began talking to him and over the course of our conversation, he became more lively and hopeful. Our presence was able to provide him with hope and at the end of our visit, he promised to stay for the remainder of his treatment. I believe it interacts such as these that illustrate the importance of our organization, too often the mental health of a patient is neglected and we provide the support many patients need.
8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
We want to expand our locations within the US and perhaps internationally. Next year, we plan on slowly expanding throughout the Bay Area. Although we have only made an impact on Regional Medical Center in San Jose, we hope to expand to different hospitals, but we would certainly need guidance in doing so. Jason, the Co-President of Poetry Pals, and I had an official meeting with the CEO of Regional Medical Center regarding the logistics of hospital volunteering in order to be approved. It would take a lot of willing Poetry Pal participants to encourage the expansion to other sites.
9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?
10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
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