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Finding escorts for doctor appointments is a problem for agencies

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

People in nursing homes and assisted living centers often have appointments at clinics. Most agencies work hard to find someone to accompany the elder if a family member can't, but sometimes there is no one who can take them. Then, a lonely, often frightened senior is sent to a clinic with nothing more than a note pinned to their clothing. Volunteers are needed to help end this indignity.

One of the saddest things I see when I walk into clinics is elders having been left by transit buses, slumped in their wheelchairs, waiting. The elders have envelopes prominently pinned to their clothing to identify them. True, these elders are safely transported from nursing homes, but there is no one to personally take charge of them at the clinic. There is no one to hold their hand.

I was fortunate to have an employer who would let me take vacation by the hour, so I was able to use vacation time to accompany my elders to doctor appointments. I would have felt awful having them go with a stranger, but I would have felt worse having them left in the cold, cavernous atrium of the clinic, alone and confused, until someone figured out, by reading a note attached to their clothing, who they were and why they were there.

However, not everyone is as fortunate as I was about being able to take vacation time by the hour so they can escort their loved ones to appointments.

From In-Home Care Agencies to Volunteers, Helping with Appointments

The homes in my area do their best to have volunteers work as escorts, when the family can't. Sometimes, even a CNA, who has already put in a full day's work, may take a resident to an appointment on her own time. These are amazing people.

Another option is in-home care agencies that can be hired for appointment assistance. True, the person taking the elder is likely a stranger, as is often the case with a volunteer, but they are generally kind strangers who are giving their best to make sure the elder has a companion for the doctor visit. It's far better than the elder being alone.

HIPAA (medical privacy laws) often prevents a non-family member from going in the doctors office with the patient, but at least the volunteer is there to keep the elder company while he waits to see the doctor, and the volunteer can reassure the resident that she will be waiting for him when the doctor visit is done.

Retired people often ask me what I recommend they do to stay active and useful. I have many suggestions for them, but one of the top things on my list is to call a nursing home and ask if they need volunteers to take elders to doctor appointments. Chances are they do. If volunteers want instant gratification, all they have to do is stick with the person they are escorting and then look around. It's likely they may see some lonely, confused, often frightened elders waiting for help. Most volunteers, once they've seen these people, will continue to volunteer for this service.

They want to do what they can to alleviate this unfeeling, undignified treatment of our elders. Every elder deserves at least this much consideration.