March 5, 2020

New partnership targets post-discharge social isolation

Northern Health is partnering with Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI) and volunteer organisation, Friends for Good, to roll out a new program to reduce social isolation and loneliness in older people after being discharged from hospital.

The peer support program named the HOW-R-U? project involves community members, volunteers and ED staff matching eligible patients with volunteers who will provide weekly telephone support for three months after discharge from Northern Hospital.

Northern Health Chief Allied Health Officer / Partnerships, Briana Baass, said, “In our efforts to achieve our strategic priority of ‘A Healthier Community’ we recognise the fundamental interconnectedness of our physical health and our psychosocial wellbeing. For that reason, initiatives like HOW-R-U? are critical to addressing the increasing impact of social isolation and loneliness in our community.”

“If we don’t pull together with a whole-of-system approach to this, we feel that our patients are more likely to deteriorate and find themselves back in our emergency department. This initiative highlights how we can partner with not-for-profits and other organisations across the system. It also shines a light on how our volunteer workforce is an integral part of our models of care.”

The HOW-R-U? project, funded through the Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund, builds on an earlier successful pilot undertaken by BCRI Principal Research Fellow Professor Judy Lowthian.

“Older people experiencing social isolation, loneliness or depressive symptoms are more likely to be at risk of poor health and increased hospitalisation,” she said.

Telephone support has been found to reduce feelings of social isolation, loneliness and depression and to improve quality of life.

“The HOW-R-U? program involves identifying symptoms of social isolation, loneliness and depression in older people presenting to Northern Hospital,” Professor Lowthian said.

“Work has already begun to co-design the roll-out of the interventions, which will create opportunities for the provision of social support and referral to community-based services where appropriate.”