A.A. Cooperation with Hospitals

Several A.A. service committees throughout Western Washing are working with local hospitals to provide “peer support visits” for patients admitted to the hospital with symptoms of an alcohol problem and or in acute alcohol withdrawal. The peer support visit is simply one alcoholic talking to another, carrying the message of recovery.

Figure 1: ‘The man on the bed’ (1935) painting of Bill and Dr. Bob and A.A. member #3

The first hospital in the area which implemented the peer support program was Virginia Mason (VM) in Seattle. The program with VM started in May 2015 and has been a great success so far. VM treats about 700 patients per year in alcohol withdrawal or suffering from alcohol related medical problems. We received 60 patient visit requests from VM during the first 9 months of setting up the 12-step program at this hospital. Please see the summary of A.A.s cooperation with Virginia Mason Hospital. In addition to Virginia Mason cooperation, we have launched a peer support program with 4 other major hospitals in Western Washington, including hospitals in Kelso/Longview,  Tacoma, and Bellevue.

Opportunities for cooperation with hospitals

  1. Peer support visits for in-hospital patients.
  2. Panel presentations to hospital staff with information about what A.A. is and what A.A. is not.
  3. Provide free literature about A.A. for hospital staff and potential alcoholic patients.
  4. Accompany any interested staff to an open A.A. meeting for professionals to learn more about the program.

Peer support process flow

We strive to keep this process as simple as possible. The offer to the patient for a peer support visit can be made at any time during their time in the hospital. The offer to the patient for A.A. peer support could be from a doctor, nurse, social worker, etc… If the patient would like the visit, the visit is usually coordinated through the social worker. The patient signs a release of information form before the social worker contacts A.A.

A permanent email address is assigned to each Hospital with an A.A. coordinator monitoring the email inbox at all times. Typically, A.A. volunteers are able to make visits from early morning until late evening. The email from the hospital to A.A. for a patient visit should be brief, with patient name, sex, and location. The A.A. coordinator replies to the request email right away to confirm that the request was received and that A.A. volunteers are on their way. The A.A. coordinator reaches out to their list of 12-step volunteers to find a volunteer that is available and then that volunteer is responsible to find a partner. We always go in pairs. We target to arrive to the hospital within 4 hours from the request. Volunteers check in at the nurse station before entering the patient’s room. The visit with the patient typically lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. Before the visit is over, the volunteer offers to have someone from A.A. to take the patient to a few meetings after they are discharged from the hospital (Bridging-the-Gap).  If the patient accepts this, we find it important to ensure that someone from A.A. is making contact on the same day that the patient is discharged from the hospital.

Peer Support Process Flow2
Figure 2: Peer Support Request Flow

Why knowledge about alcoholism and A.A. is important

The alcoholic’s resistance to help can be frustrating

  • The biggest obstacle to the Alcoholics chance to get well is their inability to admit they have a problem.
  • Rationalization and denial are symptoms of the alcoholic’s illness.
  • Some alcoholics will resist any suggestion that alcoholism is involved.
  • Often the Alcoholic will not be willing to try A.A.

How medical professionals can help

  • The doctor can often prepare the groundwork with the potential alcoholic by pointing out that he/she has the symptoms of alcoholism.
  • At this stage, the main objective is that the alcoholic recognize that they have a problem.
  • Make it clear that she/he has a progressive and often fatal illness, and that she/he probably can’t get well alone.
  • When the alcoholic accepts that they have a problem, the battle is half won.
  • Provide information about A.A. to the alcoholic patient.
  • Ask the patient if they would like someone from A.A. to visit them while they are in the hospital.
  • Almost one-half of A.A. members credit outside assistance – in the form of medical, psychological, spiritual, or other counseling – as playing an important part in directing them to A.A. (see 2014 A.A. Survey below).
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Figure 3: A.A. 2014 Membership Survey