URI, RIC Nursing students provide care for caregivers

State officials get firsthand look at respite care program at RI Nursing Education Center

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URI College of Nursing Assistant Clinical Professor Chris McGrane details the respite care program for state officials. The program is a joint effort between URI and Rhode Island College to provide respite care in the community. Photo by Patrick Luce

PROVIDENCE, R.I., May 24, 2018 — Caring for a child with special needs or an elderly parent with dementia can at times be stressful and overwhelming. The devotion and commitment to a loved one drives the caregiver to provide often constant attention, leaving them no time to take care of themselves.

Sometimes, it’s the caregivers who need to be taken care of, and University of Rhode Island College of Nursing students are there to help. The students have combined with their counterparts at Rhode Island College to provide respite care for family caregivers throughout the state, thanks to support from the U.S. Department of Human Services Lifespan Respite Grant Program. On May 22, a group of state officials got a close look at how the students prepare to provide respite care in the community.

Charles Fogarty, director of the state Department of Elderly Affairs, joined Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn and Assistant Commissioner for Post-Secondary Education Paula Schultz for a tour of the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center in Providence, and to witness a respite care class in the Center’s state-of-the-art simulation lab.

Two professional actors portrayed a middle-aged woman caring for her elderly mother who suffers from dementia. Three students enter the simulated home in the lab, which is designed to resemble a typical four-room apartment, complete with living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The lab contains all the furniture, appliances and even clutter you would expect to find in a typical home to create as realistic a scenario as possible. The students are able to practice treating the patient and comforting an often overwhelmed caregiver who is in desperate need of a break.

Once they’re comfortable in the setting, the students go out into the community to provide actual respite care for families who have applied for the program through the Diocese of Providence. The students will spend upwards of eight hours a week providing whatever assistance caregivers need. URI students have provided nearly 900 hours of respite care for parents of special-needs children over the past five semesters, according to URI Assistant Clinical Professor Chris McGrane, giving them real-world nursing experience while providing a vital service in the community.

“Respite care is the number one thing parents of special needs children cite for stress release,” McGrane said. “The biggest impact is how much we are giving to these families.”

The joint program with RIC — whose students focus on gerontological care — aims to give students an awareness of the needs of families and foster an interest in home care, while providing a service to families who can be confident in the care they receive from future nurses, according to URI Nursing Dean Barbara Wolfe.

“This is a really great partnership; we are thrilled to be able to participate in these types of workforce initiatives,” Wolfe said. “We’ve really worked hard to make something unique here. As always, patients and families are at the center of health care.”

Respite care will continue to be part of the clinical program for students at both schools for at least the next three years, as the Lifespan Respite Care Grant Program has announced it will not only continue funding the program, but will expand it to include nursing students at New England Institute of Technology and Salve Regina University.

“One of the things the governor has a strong interest in is respite care,” Fogarty has said, noting the state had a long waiting list of caregivers seeking help before the program with URI and RIC. “In the last three years, we haven’t had a waiting list. This takes a need in the community, combines it with the resources at the university to create a real win for the state.”

Any caregivers interested in receiving respite care can fill out an application at dioceseofprovidence.org/elder-services or call 401-278-4500.