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Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center celebrates continued success of Guardian Angels


Wed, Sep 27th 2023 07:00 am

Project Working to improve health and independence for seriously mentally ill

Submitted by Memorial Medical Center

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is proud to announce the remarkable achievements of its Guardian Angels Project, a grant-funded initiative dedicated to support individuals navigating the challenges of serious mental illness.

The program is in the process of seeking a third year of financial support from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to continue serving the Niagara Falls community.

The Guardian Angels program takes a unique approach to serve people with serious mental illness. It addresses the physical and mental health needs of clients, as well as their social and economic needs. The program is community-based and operates outside the four walls of the hospital, providing immediate services and interventions when clients need help the most.

NFMMC Chief Operating Officer Sheila Kee said, “If clients need a warm coat, we find them one. If they have no food, we immediately connect them to a food pantry. When clients face homelessness, the Guardian Angels team is there to find them an apartment. Red tape never stands in our way. Just like a Guardian Angel, we guard and protect our clients.”

The Guardian Angels project was designed three years ago when it became apparent that a disproportionately high number of people with serious mental illness were dying from chronic disease. Many of those clients did not have a doctor, did not attend primary care appointments, and often failed to attend their behavioral health visits.

With the robust partnership of the Guardian Angels' diligent team, and NFMMC's expansive behavioral health network, the program has already shattered its initial goal by welcoming 127 individuals grappling with serious mental illnesses.

After nearly two years of intense Guardian Angels programming, the results have been dramatic. All 127 clients have a doctor. Eighty-three percent regularly attend their primary care appointments, and 88% always show up for their behavioral health appointments. The Guardian Angels have orchestrated more than 1,000 successful medical visits, painting a bright future for mental health care in Niagara Falls. Twenty-four of the program’s 127 clients have graduated to inactive status because their needs have been met and they have achieved stability in their lives. With their strong adherence to medical and behavioral health care, many Guardian Angels clients are going to the emergency department less often and are hospitalized less frequently.

“The Guardian Angels Project's strength lies in its direct engagement with the community, built around a care management model that removes obstacles and cultivates trust," said Joseph A. Ruffolo, NFMMC CEO and president. "Our hands-on, compassionate approach ensures that every client feels seen and heard. By encouraging our clients to call us and by responding to their needs, we've helped transform the lives of those in our care."

Guardian Angels employs two full-time care managers thanks to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation's generous support. These managers are committed to assisting clients in meeting their fundamental needs, ranging from connecting them to dependable transportation to providing them with personal care products.

"Every day, we see firsthand the impact of our work," said Taylor Lovric, a Guardian Angels Project care manager. “Our clients lean on us as we help them navigate complicated service systems, and connect them to care.”

The success of Guardian Angels truly shines through the stories of its clients. Participants of the program, like Lori Gordon, mirror this sentiment.

"The Guardian Angels Project has been my North Star,” said Gordon, a participant in the program since August 2022. “The program has helped empower me to confidently navigate my medical appointments. With their support, I'm moving toward securing a place of my own – an enormous leap forward in my journey.”

Addressing clients' physical health is an important part of the Guardian Angels Project, which aims to bridge the communication gap between mental and physical health providers, contributing to comprehensive, integrated care.

“The Guardian Angels have helped me so much in better understanding my health care,” Gordon said. “They provide support at every step, from translating medical jargon, scheduling appointments, to managing my medications.”

Suzanne Enterline, another beneficiary who has combated bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, has also found solace in the project: "The Guardian Angels aren't just a program. To me, they truly are my guardian angels. Their support in helping with my medications, and reaching my appointments by providing reliable transportation, has been an absolute godsend."

The project acts as a connecting bridge between clients and the essential resources they require. By guiding them through community-based services and ensuring they receive appropriate medical attention, it has substantially improved their quality of life and health outcomes.

"Living alone for the past eight years, especially after my retirement from 30 years of nursing, has sometimes felt isolating,” Gordon said. “Having the Guardian Angels step in to advocate for me with pharmacies, attend appointments to ensure clarity, and even deliver medications has been incredibly reassuring. Their frequent check-ins and availability for my questions have filled a void, making me feel genuinely cared for."

As 2024 beckons, the Guardian Angels program envisions an even stronger bond with primary care providers.

"Our ambition is clear: regular medicinal reviews for our participants and a push for preventive health screenings,” Ruffolo said. “Every piece of feedback, every story shared, molds our strategies for achieving optimal wellness for our clients.”

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