Walters counsels families during time of personal crisis

When you listen to Wendy Walters speak, it’s easy to see she’s the perfect choice to hold UAB Hospital’s newly created family support coordinator position.

Wendy Walters is the new family support coordinator at UAB Hospital.

Her voice is soft, and its tone is reassuring. Her demeanor is calm, and her eyes tell you she’s tuned in to the conversation. All those qualities are essential when your job is to support families in the hospital who are faced with the imminent death of a loved one.

“It’s a beautiful thing to help a family reach a place where they can say goodbye to someone,” Walters says. “If I can help a family find meaning during a horrible time they remember that after the death, and it has a real positive impact on them for the rest of their lives.”

Walters’ position is funded by a two-year grant through the UAB Health Systems Foundation; the goal is to provide families with increased emotional support and counseling as they begin the grief process. She will coordinate with other support services, including pastoral care, social services, care management and psychology, to provide patients the most comprehensive care.

The position was designed by UAB researchers Rodney Tucker, M.D.; Devin Eckhoff, M.D.; and Loring Rue, M.D.; and the Alabama Organ Center. “I think the principal investigators felt like we should be doing even more to support families that have loved ones in crisis,” Tucker says. “The family support coordinator will collaborate, augment and supplement other supportive services and help patients and families access those services earlier in their hospital journey.”

Often, when families are facing the possibility of losing a loved one, many tough decisions have to be made. Walters is there to provide support as families face heart-wrenching choices regarding the withdrawal of life support, resuscitation, nutritional support and organ donation.

“You definitely get a different perspective on life,” Walters says. “But if you can help a family find some meaning out of a horrible situation, that’s a satisfying job.”

Walters has 20 years of grief counseling experience as a social worker, including 13 years with UAB Hospice.

But she says it’s not easy watching families grieve, especially when many of her cases are the result of a trauma and not an expected death.

“It is stressful and I come home every night exhausted, but I enjoy it,” she says. “When you work in hospice, typically it’s not a fast process. You’re likely to have time to make decisions. But here you have to jump into issues with families because things move at a much quicker pace.”

Walters has some goals she hopes to attain in her new role; one is to communicate the importance of organ donation to families.

“Organ donation is a great legacy for a family to have and hold,” she says. “It’s a way for them to find meaning in a senseless situation.”

Walters also wants to reach out to families after their time here at UAB. She plans to create bereavement materials for families and follow up with them at important times during the year, such as the holidays.

“It shows we’re here for families and that when they leave, UAB still cares,” Walters says.
To refer a family, page Walters at by calling University Radio Paging at 934-4011 and request 9419 or e-mail her at wwalters@uab.edu.