‘That bright spot makes a real difference’

Girl Scouts send uplifting emails to hospice nurses to brighten their day


Hospice nurses have such an important job.

That is why Denver Girl Scout Rebecca Gruen-Wener wanted to make hospice nurses the focal point of her Silver Award project.

“I really love knowing that I’m helping nurses,” she said, “because their whole job is to help others. This is our chance to help them.”

Hospice nurses are health-care professionals who care for people who are near the end of their life cycle.

The purpose of Gruen-Wener’s Silver Award project, called the Support Pal Program, is to uplift hospice nurses’ spirits. Gruen-Wener is working with about 15 Girl Scouts from eight different troops to send a weekly email with an uplifting message to the nurses working at Brookdale Hospice Denver. The Support Pal emails can include a comic or cartoon, joke or riddle, phrase of encouragement — just about “anything to make the nurses smile,” Gruen-Wener said.

Unlike a pen pal program, the nurses are not required to return an email. The emails have a sole purpose of brightening the nurses’ day, without adding more stress to their already-busy day, Gruen-Wener said.

The job of a hospice nurse is rewarding — being able to connect with a person during an intimate time in that person’s life, said Kevin Samelson, one of two clinical services managers at Brookdale. He and Abby Shaw oversee the nursing program.

But it is stressful, Samelson added. Especially now with the virus, a patient’s hospice nurse may be the only person he or she sees in-person. Receiving the emails is such an uplifting, pleasant experience for the nurses, Samelson said.

“It’s something that takes you away from the stress. It (the email) is a completely stress-free moment in the day,” Samelson said. “Everybody needs a bright spot in their day. That bright spot makes a real difference.”

Something else that Samelson added is so valuable about the emails is the spontaneity of them.

“We don’t know when it’s going to come,” he said. “It just arrives. It’s a surprise, but it’s always a pleasant surprise.”

Gruen-Wener began her project by asking the hospice nurses what their biggest challenges are currently, during COVID-19. They told her a big one was the lack of their patients’ support system. Because of the strict no visitor rules, hospice patients don’t have access to visitors such as music therapists, and friends and loved ones. Another was, simply, not being able to exchange the basic human interaction of a smile because of the need to use personal protection equipment (PPE).

“The hospice nurse now bears the full responsibility for in-person support of the isolated hospice patient,” Gruen-Wener said. “The Support Pals’ emails help the nurses deal with their stress and make their week better. It is a one-way support system for these hero-nurses at this difficult time.”

To implement this, Gruen-Wener networked with the other Girl Scout troops — four of which are based in Denver, two in Aurora and one in Arvada — and assigned a hospice nurse to each participating Girl Scout.

Launching the entire project was done remotely, Gruen-Wener said, adding that she has never met any of the other Girl Scout Support Pals in person. However, Gruen-Wener is hoping to have a get-together with them once COVID is no longer a concern and it is safe to do so.

Nurses also responded that another big challenge was protecting themselves from catching the virus and keeping their PPE organized. Brookdale Hospice Denver’s physical location is in Greenwood Village, but the nurses also do home visits which requires travel throughout the Denver-metro area and Boulder, and Brookdale also has a location in Colorado Springs.

To solve the problem of the PPE organization, particularly for the nurses doing home visits, Gruen-Wener designed and made a personalized box that the nurses can keep in the trunk of their car. The box has dividers so that one side serves as a place where the nurses can keep their clean and sanitized PPE, and the other side is for personal items such as a cell phone and keys.

Gruen-Wener’s mother, Liss Gruen, was one of the inspirations behind the project. She works fulltime as a geriatrician doctor, and part time as a medical director for Brookdale.

“She works really hard,” Gruen-Wener said. “She is a great role model.”

At nearly 70 years of age, Samelson said something else that’s fun about receiving the Support Pal email is that they come from youth/teens.

“It exposes us to a younger approach to life,” Samelson said. But moreover, Samelson added, “I’m heartened to see there are young people out there who have such a concern for others.”


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