In the last eighteen months St. Luke Health Services has had to navigate the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic including a government order to close their doors to all non-emergency visitors, mandatory testing and the rollout of vaccinations. During this time things have been challenging for everyone, but especially for nursing home residents and their families who had to endure a long period of physical separation.

In response, employees at St. Luke Health Services in Oswego did what they had always done when faced with a challenge, working as a team they innovated and responded quickly.

To keep residents and their family members connected and informed about what was happening in the residence and with loved ones, the St. Luke Employees Lending Families Support (ELFS), a volunteer program that offered special assistance to resident families emerged.

ELFS LeadingAgeNY Innovation of the Year Award 4 2021

Members of the St. Luke Employees Lending Families Support (ELFS) Team, a volunteer program offering special assistance to resident families during the pandemic, has been chosen to receive an “Innovation of the Year” Award from Leading AgeNY, a statewide trade association of not-for-profit continuing care and community service providers.

Composed of staff volunteers representing many departments across the St. Luke organization, ELFS volunteers respond to phone calls from families of residents who may just be looking for an update on the health and wellbeing of their loved one. ELFS can be found assisting residents with phone conversations, delivering packages, gifts, and messages from their loved ones. ELFS can also connect families with another staff member or department. ELFS are available seven days a week. Each family has a dedicated ELF volunteer who is available to help.

“We understood how incredibly difficult the whole experience has been for our residents and our families,” said Donna Benway, Executive Assistant at St. Luke, who helped develop and manage the program.

“We have been living and working in a world that is almost completely opposite of how we as a healthcare provider operated prior to COVID. We pride ourselves on being an inviting, welcoming place for residents and families. As soon as we were required to close our doors to visitors we organized and together worked tirelessly to keep residents and families engaged and connected by using other methods of communication that we had to adopt.”

And now, all those who have contributed to the St. Luke ELFS program can consider themselves award winners.  

In recognition of programs which demonstrate vision and creativity thereby promoting quality care and services to the elderly, the St. Luke ELFS program has been chosen as one of two programs from across the New York to receive an “Innovation of the Year” Award from Leading AgeNY, a trade association of long-term care providers. A virtual award presentation will take place later this year.

Debbie Hursh, Director of the Adult Day Health Care Program and a member of the ELFS program was pleased for her fellow team members. “I am very proud of all the staff that came together to support our residents and families during such an unprecedented time.”

The ELFS program at St. Luke assisted hundreds of families over the course of the pandemic and volunteers are prepared should the need arise again in the future.

LeadingAge New York represents not-for-profit, mission-driven and public continuing care providers, including nursing homes, senior housing, adult care facilities, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living and community service providers. Leading Age New York's more than 600 members employ 150,000 professionals serving more than 500,000 New Yorkers annually.