A Little Sunshine in VMC Rehab

The drug detox and rehabilitation center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Recognized nationally as a center for excellence, the VMC Rehab Center treats patients with severe head, spinal cord and stroke related injuries, regardless of ability to pay. Since its founding, over 15,000 patients have been served.

Each one of those patients represents an amazing story of struggle and hope. Here is one, as told by Connie Pugh, Nurse Manager, SCVMC Rehab (2Center)

“A Little Sunshine in VMC Rehab”

For the last six months, a group of nurses from 2Rehab (a Rehab unit within VMC) have been brainstorming ways to improve the patient experience similar to LegacyHealing. In May, 2010 one of the new programs launched was the Sunshine Club. The Sunshine Club was developed to provide a bright and energizing breakfast experience for the 2Rehab patients to help them start their day in a positive way. The Club involves setting up the Rehab Day Room with small tables covered with brightly colored tablecloths, fresh flowers, uplifting music and serving the patients coffee, tea and juice before breakfast. Breakfast then arrives and the staff is there to assist the group of patients with their meal. Conversation is encouraged between patients, families and staff.

On the first day of the Sunshine Club, the staff had the Day Room bright, shiny and ready to go. The problem was the patients didn’t want to get up. They had previously been eating their morning meal in their rooms alone. With a little encouragement, the patients got up and joined the group in the Day Room.

One patient, “Mr V,” just did not want to attend on that first day. I went in to speak to Mr. V and said to him “Mr. V, people just are not made to eat alone in a dark room – we would really like to have you join us in the Day Room.

Mr. V replied back “but I like my dark room and I want to eat alone.” I said to Mr. V, “We want to add some hope and brightness to your morning here in rehab,” and Mr. V replied “but I don’t want hope and brightness, I want to be in the dark.”

At that point I explained to Mr. V that the Sunshine Club was new and we would really like to have him come the first day and then if he did not like it we would not ask him again. He reluctantly agreed to come, although he muttered complaints on the way in to the day room and throughout breakfast.

Later in the day, Mr. V wheeled himself to my office and said he wanted to “fess up about something.” He said the Sunshine Club was a real nice thing we did for patients, including serving coffee, the music and the flowers. Why he really objected to go, he said, was because he had been a youth counselor at one time and seeing young head injury patients in rehab made him very sad.

I then asked Mr. V, “You were a youth counselor?” He replied yes. I said, “Then Mr. V, I really need you to help me with the Sunshine Club. I need you to bring brightness and hope to our young patients – in fact, you can be Mr. Sunshine and come help me each day.”

Mr. V replied to me, “Well if you really need me to help I guess I could do that.”
Bright and early the next morning, and every morning after until discharge, Mr. V helped with the Sunshine Club. He had a special way of getting patients to talk and laugh and have a good time, particularly the young patients.

On Mr. V’s day of discharge, I didn’t see him come into the Sunshine Club at the usual time. A little later he wheeled himself in and said “Everyone, I have an announcement to make: I’m going home today.” The group of patients all clapped for him. He then said, “You all know me as Mr. Sunshine, well today I’m leaving and want to pass the torch to someone else. I’ve chosen ‘Mr. E’ to be the next Mr. Sunshine.”

Mr. E looked up and said “I don’t know, man, what do I have to do?” Mr. V said “Well you have to show up early to help Carlo and Connie get the Day Room Ready and help serve coffee and you have to bring sunshine to all the patients.” Mr. E said he would think about it.

The next morning when I arrived at 0630, Mr. E was already up and in the Day Room. He said with a smile “What do I need to do to help?”

Our new Mr. Sunshine had arrived.

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