The St. Luke Health Services "Employees Lending Families Support" (ELFS) Program received a 2021 Leading Age New York "Innovation of the Year" Award.

About the Program: In March 2020 nursing homes were required to close their doors to all non-emergency visitors. The change was sudden and left many families wondering what would happen to their loved ones without the regular interaction they were accustomed to. The anxiety was palpable. Employees Lending Families Support (ELFS) is a program that we at St. Luke Health Services quickly implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to help families keep connected to their loved ones through enhanced communication and extra support. Once the call went out for volunteers, the ELFS team quickly took on a life of its own. Made-up of administrative staff volunteers from many departments the ELFS worked tirelessly to keep families and residents engaged and connected by coming up with new ways to communicate.

During one of the most difficult times in memory, the ELFS team learned a whole new set of skills. They accomplished this by jumping in to act as technical support, counselors, surrogate family, and friends. They brought comfort, friendship, empathy and caring to every interaction, and this level of engagement continues today. During the prohibition on visitors, they helped to deliver packages, mail, gifts, and messages back and forth between residents and families. ELFS found themselves holding phones to the ears of residents so that they could talk to families, they learned what amplifiers were and which headphones worked best. Sometimes all that was needed was a hand to hold. ELFS learned all of the meal times, who could eat what, and what each resident’s favorite foods were. They learned what resident’s former occupations were. ELFS also helped to alleviate tasks from nursing staff. Phone calls increased greatly and instead of nursing staff answering all of the calls from families the ELFS set up a triage system, guidelines, and phone call tracking logs. They were able to connect families with other staff or departments if they couldn’t do it themselves.

As we start to emerge from the global pandemic we can see the positive changes the ELFS program has brought about when we look at the profound change in the relationships between staff, residents, and families. Families know who their ELF is by first name. An already great network became even bigger. The ELFS Program was instrumental in keeping the lines of communication open, alleviating anxiety for families and residents, and providing exceptional caregiving.

Congratulations to everyone on our ELFS team at St. Luke!