By Jeanne Sager
HARRIS March 17, 2006 Its the best part of Anita Parkhursts day.
The coordinator of the Planetree program at Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris logs onto her computer and checks her e-mail.
She begins downloading get-well wishes from round the world.
Parkhurst hits print, then puts together her stack of mail to deliver to patients around the hospital.
I get to hand carry get well wishes, letters from Nana . . . she said. This is my favorite program.
E-mail-a-Patient was instituted at the Harris facility two years ago.
But its only been since the hospital made it a huge focal point of its Website that the e-mails have come pouring in.
There are days when Ill get one or two, there are days when Ill get 15 or 20, Parkhurst said. My favorite ones are the ones written by the children.
Sometimes she has to write back and find out just who Nana is so she can deliver news about a 7-year-olds new puppy or a toddlers new tooth.
But as long as the recipient is currently a patient somewhere on the floors of the Harris facility, Parkhurst is going to print out their e-mail and make sure it makes it into their hands.
For patients who dont have the strength to sit up in bed and read their mail, Parkhurst does the reading delivering the get well messages in her strong, clear voice.
EllenRose Duffy has been writing to her grandmother, Roselie Duffy, for several months now.
Duffys maternal grandmother, Ellen Neumann stumbled across the CRMC Website and discovered the program.
She asked the 6-year-old if shed like to start writing to her grandmother, a former Liberty resident who now spends her days in the Skilled Nursing Unit (SNU) at CRMC.
The first grader at Tri-Valley Central School was familiar with the computer shed been using it to play games on Nick Jr.
Now she sits with Neumann at the computer and composes letters about the goings on at her home.
She shares updates about her younger sister, Erin, tells Roselie about trips with dad Craig to purchase presents from mom Geri, and reminds her grandmother just how much she loves her.
I dont see her very often, EllenRose said. I love her, and I miss her.
Writing to Roselie helps her stay connected.
And Neumann sees the effect when she makes visits to Roselie.
She personally gets lots of company, but I see people who havent had company in two years, she noted.
An e-mail makes all the difference, Neumann noted.
Many people who have loved ones in a nursing facility do not visit as often as they might wish to, which leads to a lot of loneliness on the part of the patients and a lot of guilt on the part of the family members, she explained. Cards, letters and packages require a trip to to the post office, which sometimes just does not fit into our schedules.
But e-mail! she said. E-mail!
Its so easy, Neumann noted. People are on the computer 24/7.
Its the perfect way to stay in touch, she continued. Grandchildren, nieces, sons and daughters now have the opportunity to stay in touch almost effortlessly.
The program extends beyond the longterm care program at SNU into every sector of the hospital, Parkhurst said.
Babies can get a welcome to the world message from grandparents three states away, and patients in critical care can get a much-needed pick-me-up from friends who arent able to visit.
With patient stays constantly being cut down (due in part to improvements in care and in part to insurance companies), its not really practical to send cards and gifts to the hospital anymore.
By the time the card gets here, the patients gone, Parkhurst noted.
But an e-mail, she said, takes no time at all.
The e-mails are reviewed by Parkhurst to make sure the content is appropriate (harassing messages or messages she said arent conducive to someone getting better are trashed).
If a patient has already been discharged, those letters are shredded so they remain private.
Because of federal privacy regulations, Parkhurst cannot confirm whether a patient has received an e-mail, but she said e-mails are delivered Monday through Friday during normal business hours as long as the patient can be found.
The patients cant respond there are not yet computers in each room at the hospital.
But Parkhurst said the messages make a real difference.
One patient, she recalled, belonged to a crafting club with members around the world.
The woman received more than 100 messages from places far beyond Sullivan Countys borders.
Other folks get messages from family members who would never be able to make it in for a visit during visitors hours at the hospital.
They learn about the program on the Website or hear about it from other family members, and they become regular penpals.
Once a son sends an e-mail to his mother, it gets out, Parkhurst said. Then the uncle in California or aunt in Canada sends one.
SNU residents often get pictures of new grandchildren or great-grandchildren, new houses and new puppies.
Its growing, Parkhurst noted. In the beginning, we only did maybe one a month.
Now well have 20 in a day.
E-mails can be sent to patients at firstname.lastname@example.org. The e-mail should list the name of the patient in the subject line, although its not necessary to specify a room number.
E-mails can also be sent through the hospitals Web-site, www.crmcnyorg. Click on E-mail-a-Patient for the rules.