Background: Falls in hospital are frequent and their consequences place an increased burden on health services. We evaluated a falls prevention strategy consisting of the introduction of volunteers to 'sit' with patients identified as being at high risk of falling.
Methods: Two four bed 'safety bays' located on medical wards in two hospitals within southern Adelaide were used. Ward fall rates (expressed as falls per 1000 occupied bed days) were compared in the baseline period (February-May 2002) with the implementation period (February - May 2003) using incident rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals. The number of hours of volunteered time was also collected.
Results: No patient falls occurred on either site when volunteers were present. However, there was no significant impact on overall ward fall rates. In the baseline period, there were 70 falls in 4828 OBDs (14.5 falls per 1000 OBDs). During the implementation period, there were 82 falls in 5300 OBDs (15.5 falls per 1000 OBD). The IRR for falls in the implementation versus baseline period was 1.07 (95%CI 0.77 - 1.49; P = 0.346). Volunteers carried out care activities (e.g. cutting up food), provided company, and on occasions advocated on behalf of the patients. Volunteers donated 2345 hours, at an estimated value to the hospitals of almost $57,000.
Conclusion: Volunteers may play an important and cost-effective role in enhancing health care and can prevent falls in older hospital patients when they are present. Full implementation of this program would require the recruitment of adequate numbers of volunteers willing to sit with all patients considered at risk of falling in hospital. The challenge for future work in this area remains the sustainability of falls prevention strategies.