When I start to talk about Support Teams, I’ve learned that everyone already has an idea of what I’m talking about – and in many cases, it isn’t what I’m talking about.
People like it when I say that I’m working with Support Teams, but I’ve found that I need not assume they understand what we’re actually up to. For example, when I say “Support Team,” some people think, “support group.” They imagine groups of people who’ve suffered similar illnesses, losses, or tragedies in their lives who gather with others who’ve had similar experiences in order to talk their experiences out. Sort of like Viet Nam veterans needing other Viet Nam veterans or cancer survivors supporting cancer victims. Those kinds of groups do a world of good and help people live through and survive sometimes unspeakable pain, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Often, when I say “support team,” people think we’re organizing financial aid. Some folks imagine that we provide resources for getting into skilled nursing facilities or help in finding low-cost housing, or a car, or car repairs, or something on the lines of Meals on Wheels. In fact, one of our three boundaries set when we form a support team includes refraining from any exchange of money. While Support Teams often address many of those kinds of practical needs, Support Teams function on the basis of generosity and volunteerism. (You can read more about this in our 10 Best Practices list by clicking here.)
The word “network” can throw some people off, as well. They imagine that we have a collection of teams waiting for assignments, teams of people who await a person for whom they can care. All we need to do is call one of these teams and direct them toward the patient/family who needs the team. While this resembles closely a dream I’ve had since coming to UAB, we don’t have a cadre of teams on standby ready at any moment to be “called up.”
Right now, the word “network” in our title describes the growing community of persons who’ve discovered the genius of this methodology for doing what I like to call “nurturing community.” As time goes on, I envision a cohort of people we’ve trained to be coaches. These folks would do precisely what I described in the preceding paragraph. They’d receive a call from one of us here in the hospital regarding a particular patient, then partner with us in taking the lead to assemble a team of volunteers who would become a Support Team. Right now, however, we’re still building and it will be a while before this aspect of our network exists.
So, when I speak of organizing support teams, it boils down to entering into the world of a particular patient and discovering how best to walk with that person in weaving a supportive community from the various strands of his or her life as it is.
In the next post, I’ll reflect a bit on meaningful ways to describe proactively what we’re up to with Support Teams.