The heart of a nurse isn’t bound by the hours of a work shift.

Julie and Barbara both know that.

Julie Postma is a former ICU nurse who’s now an associate professor in the WSU College of Nursing, teaching in Puyallup, Washington.  Barbara worked as a nurse for decades in California and North Carolina, but at 90, she’s in an assisted living facility in Seattle.

The two connected through ElderFriends, a program in Seattle and King County that matches isolated older adults with volunteers who provide companionship. Postma visits Barbara twice a month and takes the older nurse on drives to explore the Puget Sound region, or just to people-watch.

Julie Postma, left, a faculty member with the College of Nursing, has been a volunteer companion to Barbara, right, through ElderFriends.
Julie Postma, left, a faculty member with the College of Nursing, has been a volunteer companion to Barbara, right, through ElderFriends.

The two share a love of national parks, travel, and dogs. “Sometimes we’ll go to a dog park – Barbara really misses a little dog she had,” Postma said. “She just lights up.”

After spending about two years together, Postma said she couldn’t imagine a more perfect match than Barbara.

So she worried about her friend when she was making plans to be out of the country for six weeks earlier this year. “I thought, that’s such a long time to be gone,” Postma said. “That’s when I had the idea of taking Barbara on a fun metaphorical road trip.” Using photos and interesting facts, Postma created an armchair trip through the Pacific Northwest. She asked a friend to mail the travelogues to Barbara each week.

Postma said she signed up for ElderFriends because she missed the meaningful interactions she used to have with patients. “That’s a big part of nursing,” she said. “It was a big part of my enjoyment of the profession.”

Seeing Barbara brings that back, Postma said.

“This is connecting with another person in the way I used to connect with seniors in the hospital,” she said. “My favorite part of this experience is when I drop her off and she turns around and gives me a big smile.”

For more information on ElderFriends, a program offered by Full Life Care, visit their website at www.fulllifecare.org/we-can-help/by-service/elderfriends/