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Solution uncovered by PI project
The support group program ran fairly smooth at FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, NC, until it became apparent that some of the group leaders had hidden agendas. One wanted to use the breast cancer support group to promote her makeup business and do facials and makeovers at the meetings as a way to sell products. Others were trying to gain support for political endeavors.
The problem surfaced through the complaints from members and during interviews with potential group leaders or contact persons. "In our initial meeting to talk about the role we play and the role we expect our contact people to play, we would pick up some things we felt were not appropriate," explains Amy Vega, MBA, MHA, RHEd, patient education coordinator.
The support groups at FirstHealth of the Caroli-anas are community-driven. People approach the health care facility when they want to start a support group and are given logistical help such as a meeting space, refreshments, and access to the speakers’ bureau. Each group has one or two contact persons who act as liaisons between the group and the health care facility. They secure speakers, submit monthly reports, attend a support group contact persons’ meeting every other month, and assist in mailing meeting flyers.
To remedy the problem of inappropriate conduct by contact persons, Vega pulled together a small task force consisting of people from the education department, volunteer services, and support group contact people. The task force used the action cycle to determine the problems and their solutions, which is the method used for performance improvement at the health care facility.
The steps followed in the action cycle are as follows:
• Assess the situation.
• Determine the causes.
• Target ideas and solutions.
• Implement the plan.
• Make it ongoing.
Two obvious solutions
"Basically, our group talked about what was creating the problems and what solutions would work," says Vega. Their solutions included creating a support group contact persons manual and making contact persons hospital volunteers. "In that way, when new contact persons came on board, we would be able to do background checks and check references to see if people had any issues working with them in the past," says Vega. As part of the volunteer program, contact people would receive recognition for the hours they devoted to the group.
The manual explains how FirstHealth aids support groups, what is expected of the contact person, how to launch a support group, how to obtain speakers for meetings, and how to write the monthly report. "With the manual, we wanted to clarify expectations. We would sit down and talk to people, but a lot of what we said would go in one ear and out the other. We thought it would be helpful if we put the information on paper so there would be no question about what was expected," says Vega.
The manuals were distributed in November 2000, and all current contact people attended a special volunteer orientation in January 2001. New support group contact people attend the regular hospital volunteer orientation.
Since the volunteer training and manual was implemented, Vega found that it was easier to uncover inappropriate contact people. "In our first meeting, we present the manual and go over the information. During this initial contact, many people determine that they aren’t the right person for the job. It has helped to filter out some of the people that are not appropriate for contact persons," she says.
Although it is more work to go over the manual with potential contact people than simply interviewing them the process does save time in the long run, says Vega. "We don’t have to deal with complaints from the members or nonprofit issues. The big problem with hidden agendas is that there was often a profit involved one way or another," she explains. n
For more information about creating a performance improvement project to assess support groups, contact:
• Amy Vega, MBA, MHA, RHEd, Patient Education Coordinator, FirstHealth of the Carolinas, 110 Page Road, P.O. Box 3000, Pinehurst, NC 28374. Telephone: (910) 215-1585. Fax: (910) 215-1586. E-mail: email@example.com.