The first Maryland-based network that lets volunteers bank and swap the time they spend helping elderly and disabled people is opening next month at North Arundel Hospital.
Partners in Care is the latest entry in a growing national field of about 85 volunteer service credit programs. All are aimed at avoiding costly medical and nursing care by helping people stay in their homes.
Volunteers earn credits for time they spend changing light bulbs or walking the dog for a disabled person or reminding an elderly person to take medicine, then use that time to get help for themselves, or donate to someone else.
Those who got help can return the favors when they are able by helping others. The bank keeps track of hours and matches volunteers with people who need help.
"Maybe somebody needs something fixed around the house, lubricating a door, hanging a blind," said George H. Seiler Jr. of Linthicum, who does handyman work for people in the area, whether or not they can pay him.
"The credits, they just pile up in case I am in a situation where I need these credits," said Mr. Seiler, 70. "I'm getting older. It's a little investment."
He was among the first to sign up for Partners in Care.
The Glen Burnie program is the brainchild of three Severna Park women -- Sandra Jackson and sisters Barbara Huston and Maureen Cavaiola. They are longtime friends who became intrigued by the idea in 1989, while they were studying for advanced degrees in health care for the aging.
They approached North Arundel Hospital for several reasons, they said. The hospital has targeted the elderly for many outreach programs, the fastest-growing population it serves is over 85, and the area already has many volunteer groups. The women and the hospital organized the program last December, then went hunting for grant money.
This year, they received grants from the Jacob and Anita France Foundation Inc. and the Robert F. and Anne M. Merrick Foundation Inc., starting them with $15,000 and adding another $45,000 over two years if the hospital would match that with $90,000 in money and services. They set up shop in the hospital last month.
Even before they started, they saw examples of the need for their service, the women said. They spoke of a woman, stabilized after suffering seizures, who was afraid to go home because nobody could be with her for several hours. She spent the day in the waiting area, knitting.
Others patients who were discharged from the hospital spent most of the day there waiting for a ride home from someone who could stop with them to fill a prescription and get a few groceries.
Many canceled multiple outpatient services because they had no transportation and nobody to accompany them.
This is where Partners in Care could save the hospital money, said spokesman Kevin Murnane. It will give people a little boost to help them along, keep them well, or keep them out of a nursing home.
"They are essentially free services that are being made available. These are support services to complement the care the family would give to the patient," said Susan Ward, vice president of operations at the hospital.
Ms. Jackson, Ms. Huston and Ms. Cavaiola each put about 20 hours a week into Partners in Care. They are going to area clubs, civic groups and churches to sign up volunteers.
The concept of swapping services within a community turns up in such established programs as baby-sitting co-ops and blood banks. But applying it to the needs of the infirm was pioneered in the last decade, said Mark R. Meiners, who runs the Volunteer Service Credit Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Eventually, Ms. Jackson said, she hopes to see volunteer programs all over the country linked with each other. Ideally, she could do volunteer work in Severna Park and swap credits for help for her mother in Amsterdam, N.Y., who suffers from arthritis.
One other network that stretches into Maryland is the Washington, D.C.-based Cooperative Caring Network, which operates in Montgomery and Prince George's County as well as in the city.
Run by the United Seniors Health Cooperative, the 1-year-old plan has a few hundred volunteers and is poised to broaden its reach into Northern Virginia later this month, said Anne Werner, USHC director of community services.