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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Where can families of hospitalized patients turn for help? Support group offers an answer

Joy Daughtery Dickinson is executive editor of the Hospital Group of publications at AHC Media in Atlanta and long-time editor and writer of Same-Day Surgery. She has won nine national awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association and the Association of Business Information & Media Companies for her blogging, news writing, and editing. She makes her home in southwest Georgia.

Years ago, a relative of mine was hospitalized unexpectedly out of town. I was away from friends and family who tried to be supportive, but could not be there. One of the things that helped me through this difficult time was a support group. However, I had to track down the information about the group myself, and the group didn’t meet at the hospital.

The idea of having a support group on site is being used at Houston-based Ben Taub Hospital, part of the Harris Health System, for those who have a family member or friend in its neurological and trauma-surgical intensive care units. The groups meet separately each week for each ICU and have between four and nine people attend each meeting. The support groups are offered in English and Spanish.

One of the things that helps the support group succeed is that the group’s leader has his own success story to share after being critically ill. Michael Segal, a patient advocate at the hospital, was shot in a convenience store shooting and survived. He was able to share his story with Karina Valencia, whose 19-year-old son also was shot in a convenience store robbery and nearly killed. Valencia says, “In my darkest moment when my hope was at its lowest, I met Michael and he told me, ‘That was me and I’m still here.’ Seeing a talking, walking, and thinking version of a survivor like my son gave me the biggest hope.”

Originally, Segal had planned to be an orthopedic surgeon, but being shot changed the course of his life. Now he holds a master’s degree in social work. “Instead of helping people with their broken bones, I’m helping people with their broken spirits,” he says. “In the group, they share, cry, vent, and let us know of any issues that staff can help resolve. It’s mainly a time for them to listen or be heard.”

Karina’s son, Jorge, is recovering. He’s taking home-school classes and hopes to graduate this month with his class. His family is planning to attend the health system’s Trauma Survivors Celebration this month, which provides a reunion of patients with many caregivers who took care of them. The event is held annually for patients receiving trauma care from Harris Health’s Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals.

We’ve shared stories about supporting family members in previous blogs. (See “Who’s caring for the caregivers?") What can you do today to support the families of your patients?