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Providing a Home Away from Home

Shepherd Center’s Family Support Services staff and volunteer team aims to meet the needs of families.

Requests range from the routine, “Where is the grocery store? How do I get my mail? Can you fax something for me?” to the slightly more complicated. For example, a patient’s pregnant wife needs to find a local obstetrician, or a family wants to plan a wedding to be held at Shepherd Center. These – and many others – are the kinds of things that keep Gale Eckstein, Shepherd Center’s Family Support Services coordinator, and her team of 25 volunteers busy.

Shepherd Center provides housing for up to 30 days for families of newly injured rehabilitation patients if the patient lives more than 60 miles from Shepherd Center; housing may also be available for out-of-town day program patients. This allows families to be close by to offer emotional support and engage in family training. But Shepherd Center’s efforts to become families’ “home away from home” don’t stop at providing housing. These efforts converge in the hospital’s sixth floor family lounge where families have access to three computers, hot beverages and volunteers that can be mobilized to help with any need. This is also where you can find Eckstein’s office.

“Many of our families have had to re-create their lives while they are here,” Eckstein says. “They are under extreme emotional distress and have so many logistical things they are concerned about. If we can take just one thing off their plate, like faxing a form to their insurance company, then we’ve lightened their burden.”

A volunteer from Family Support Services usually meets with a new family on or around the second day after their loved one is admitted to Shepherd Center. Volunteers provide family members with an information guide that lists what family support services can do for them, a list of restaurants within walking distance, discount cards and other helpful information. Volunteers also are available to drive family members on errands, such as going to the grocery store.

One simple service families take advantage of is printing and faxing. Eckstein can assist families handling the mountains of insurance and medical forms that often accompany a lengthy hospital stay. She also coordinates social events for families, such as monthly ice cream parties, brunches, magic shows, and even free massages. These services are all donated by local individuals and organizations and are available to any family member, not only those staying in the hospital’s on-campus Woodruff Family Residence Center.

Jim Baker, whose daughter was admitted to Shepherd Center on Jan. 5 after having a stroke, says these services have been invaluable to him.

“Just help with faxing and copying insurance forms and using their computers is a tremendous help,” he says. “You can’t do everything from your phone, and you don’t want to spend time away from the hospital at a copy center trying to get it all done.”

Cody Hale, a young man from Martinsville, Virginia, who sustained a brain injury in a car crash last year, celebrated his 21st birthday at Shepherd Center. And Eckstein made sure all 80 cards he received at the hospital made it to his room.

“It’s the little things they do to make our life easier so we can handle the big things,” says Cody’s father, Elmer Hale. “If Gale doesn’t know the answer to our question, she will find someone who does. We are so appreciative of the care we have received here.”

Though she may not come directly in contact with each patient, Eckstein views her job as ultimately helping the patients.

“The patients won’t thrive on their journey unless they are supported by family,” she says. “We provide support for the families so they can support their loved ones.”

For more information on Family Support Services, visit here.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.