12 Step Calls

The following FAQ was initially created for volunteers to the Hospitals in Western Washington, but many suggestions could be applied to any Hospital 12 step call.

What do I do when I receive a twelve step call?

Respond right away if you are available to arrive to the hospital by evening same day. Indicate the time you will arrive. We ask that volunteers taking the call will arrange to find their own buddy to join them. If you have trouble finding a buddy, be sure to let the dispatcher  know right away that you need help.

How soon do I need to be at the hospital?

Sometimes patients are discharged within hours of the call from the hospital, this is especially true for ER patients. We strive that A.A. volunteers get to the hospital as soon as possible (within a 2-4 hours max). Be sure to let the dispatcher know if you cannot arrive within a couple hours.

Can I go alone? 

It’s recommended that we go in pairs and volunteers should always be the same sex as the patient. Bring a fellow home group member, a friend, your sponsor, etc…

What do I do when I arrive to the hospital?

Check in at the nurse’s station of the floor/wing/department that the patient is located. A.A. members do not need to provide their names or sign anything. Just say something like, “we are from A.A. and here to visit John Smith, is it ok that we go in now?” Volunteers do not need to inform the nurse of their departure.

What do I talk to the patient about?

If you are not sure what to do or say on a 12th step call, read chapter 7 “Working with Others” in the A.A. big book, particularly pages 91-95. Remember, A.A. cannot instill the initial motivation for others to stop drinking. Although the patient has expressed a desire for the visit, it’s not always clear how willing the patient really is. Try not to judge their willingness. We plant seeds with our experience, strength, and hope. We have patients later coming into A.A. after these visits although they seemed uninterested during the 12 step visit.

If the patient shows an interest, what do I do?

The big book says, “Tell him that if he wants to get well you will do anything to help” (page 95). For most volunteers, this means that we will exchange contact information with the patient and arrange to take them to a meeting when they get out of the hospital. Of course we don’t push this if the patient is not interested. If the patient lives out of the area, be sure to pass their information on to the dispatcher so that they can be connected to their local A.A. members.

I don’t feel comfortable with nurses coming in and out of the room.

Volunteers can request some privacy during the visit so that care takers are not in and out during the visit. Most staff are understanding of this. Be aware that if the patient is on suicide watch you cannot have the door closed.

How long will the visit take?

Usually about 45 minutes.

What if the patient says they never requested the visit?

Patients must sign a release of information document (ROI) agreeing that the Hospital may contact A.A. with the patients name and hospital room number.  By law, the hospital cannot contact A.A. with this information without the patients signature on the ROI form. If the patient “forgot” or changed their mind about talking to someone from A.A. by the time you arrive, politely leave.

What do I do after the visit is over?

Just leave, you do not need to inform the hospital staff that the visit is over. If the patient has expressed to you that they want to go to treatment, you can inform the social worker on staff before you leave.

The Virginia Mason Story

2016 UPDATE:

During the first 12 months of this exciting 12 step call relationship with Virginia Mason Hospital, we 12 stepped 63 patients. From this success, VM has requested that we expand to  their ER department. This will officially launch this summer. Since 2015, other Hospitals in Western Washington (from Kelso/Longview to Bellevue), have begun to cooperate much closer with their local A.A. committees by offering 12 step calls to their patients.

In 2014, Virginia Mason hospitalized 693 patients with the diagnosis of alcohol intoxication or alcohol abuse. Virginia Mason is an acute care hospital and not an alcohol treatment center. They do not have a “detox” center. Alcohol dependent patients admitted to the hospital are in a medical crisis and experience abrupt cessation of alcohol. These patients are at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), a dangerous combination of symptoms associated with significant morbidity, and safety concerns for staff and patients. Nursing and other providers feel hopeless and inadequately prepared to help these patients, particularly at the time of patient discharge from the hospital. Many alcoholic patients return to the hospital repeatedly, leaving the care providers frustrated by their inability to help the alcoholic patient with their alcoholism.

In February 2015, Virginia Mason Hospital (VMH) contacted the Greater Seattle Intergroup (GSIG) asking us to participate in their Rapid Process Improvement Workshop. The workshop was a full week with key hospital staff including doctors, social workers, psychiatrists, and nurses, with the goal of improving care, addressing the challenges of managing patients in alcohol withdrawal, and reducing the morale distress of all involved.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous kicked off the workshop by providing information about what A.A. is and what A.A. is not, how A.A. works, and what A.A. meetings are like. We shared our own experiences with alcohol detox in a hospital setting and the role that medical professionals played in our coming to A.A. We also shared how A.A. can help and how A.A. can be contacted. We also described how A.A. founders visited patients at their bedside in hospitals in the 1930s and still do this today. Virginia Mason Hospital staff was very interested in having what they call “peer support visits”. GSIG then set up an email account specifically for 12th step requests from Virginia Mason Hospital. After the request process was defined and rolled out, A.A. volunteers awaited the first call with excitement. We felt a little like Bill waiting for the first orders for the book Alcoholics Anonymous to come in to the old Post Office Box 658.

The first call came in early April. Soon two members of Alcoholics Anonymous were sitting alongside the patient’s bed carrying the message. The patient was offered further support from A.A. members who live in her area. The patient was discharged that same afternoon and was taken to a meeting by District folks in Arlington where she lives. The hand of A.A. is everywhere. In little over a month since the first call, A.A. volunteers have visited over 10 alcoholic patients at their hospital bedside at Virginia Mason. For the A.A. volunteers, the experience has been profoundly moving and positive. Virginia Mason has said, “This is about innovation… implementing peer supported recovery via 12th step collaboration.”

In May 2015, two Virginia Mason health care professionals gave a presentation at the Area 72 PI/CPC quarterly. They helped us with the following questions.

  • How medical professionals benefit from Alcoholics Anonymous cooperation?
  • How can A.A. better cooperate with medical professionals?
  • How can Alcoholics Anonymous approach other hospitals to offer what we did for Virginia Mason? How do we get our foot in the door? Which departments and professionals do we want to approach?

Virginia Mason talked about their improved training and education for the nursing staff to combat the hopelessness and frustration of dealing with alcoholics. They described the major change around teaching the nurses to assess readiness for change in their patients. They said, “This is brand new”, and that “A.A. members also showed us that we should speak honestly to the alcoholic about the medical consequences of their drinking and that we can talk to the alcoholics in the same way that we would to a very ill patient with diabetes who refuses to change their diet or take insulin.” Assessing the patient readiness to change previously had fallen to social workers in hospitals and some patients never saw a social worker. Virginia Mason social workers have every avenue of treatment available, and A.A. is now one of those avenues.

The Virginia Mason Hospital project has been a wonderful opportunity for the Greater Seattle Intergroup (GSIG) committees and Western Washington Area 72 District committees to collaborate and work together. The committees provide pocket Big Books, A.A. meeting schedules from all over the Area, literature packets for the hospital staff and for the patients. The committees also continue to cooperate with Virginia Mason by providing A.A. panels to nursing and Emergency Room care providers. Since many patients at Virginia Mason Hospital come from all over Western Washington, and even one from Alaska, bridging the patients to A.A. meetings after the patients go home has been a collaborative effort between committees far outside the Greater Seattle Area.


PI/CPC Quarterlies

Quarterlies are where all district and group Public Information Committee & Cooperation with the Professional Community Committee chairs, along with anyone interested in P.I. & CPC work get together to share ideas, learn, ask for help, and fellowship. You can find out when the upcoming quarterlies are from the event page.


Welcome to the new website for the Western Washington Area 72 Public Information Committee. This site is a collection of ideas, projects, events, and literature to serve as an all in one place resource to P.I. committees throughout the Area. If there are resources you would like to see added to the site, please make suggestions.