MetroHealth Volunteers Spread Hope One Call at a Time
Mais Nemeh is good at small talk. That’s clear as soon as you start chatting with the 20-year-old Cleveland State University student. A volunteer program at MetroHealth helped her realize that knack for good conversation can improve people’s health, too.
That’s the basis of Calls for HOPE – a program through MetroHealth’s Institute for H.O.P.E.™ that pairs trained volunteers with patients, especially seniors, for weekly chats over the phone. Conversation might focus on the weather, hobbies, family, plans for the week, recipes – anything that might get the patient talking.
“At the start of the pandemic, I personally felt like I didn’t talk to anybody except for my two brothers,” says Nemeh, who plans to go to medical school. “I couldn’t imagine how people who were socially isolated felt. I thought this program would be a good opportunity to not only help them but give me someone to talk to as well.”
A program like this is desperately needed in Greater Cleveland. In 2021, for example, 46% of MetroHealth patients screened for their social needs reported being at risk for social isolation.
That’s especially concerning given the growing body of evidence that links social isolation with various health conditions – and not just mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Social isolation among heart failure patients, for instance, was associated with an almost four-fold increased risk of death and higher rates of hospitalization.
“Social isolation can be catastrophic,” says James Campbell, MD, Chair of the Department of Geriatrics at MetroHealth. “It can lead to the loss of purpose, loss of a sense of community or a sense of belonging. People who are thriving in old age have lots of social contact. Human contact is critical to your mental health and so much more.”
Patient participants include individuals managing chronic illness or injury, those living alone and individuals experiencing life changes that present new challenges for socializing. Volunteers are trained to keep things positive, report concerning behavior and steer the patient toward other healthy outlets for socialization.
Nemeh’s secret to a good conversation? Just being herself.
“Sometimes we’ll have really good conversations, and it’s hard to say goodbye,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to volunteer, especially in a hospital setting. Being able to do that virtually during the pandemic and still make a difference has been rewarding.”
The Institute for H.O.P.E.™ is recruiting additional volunteers for Calls for HOPE. The next virtual training session will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26. We ask for a commitment of weekly calls of at least 15 minutes over the course of six months. For more information or to register, call 440-592-1317 or email CallsforHOPE@metrohealth.org.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.