Capturing the Stories of Elders - The Life History Project

Personalizes Care, Promotes Quality and Safety

Click the image to see what a full history looks like when completed. Sheila Brune

Everyone has a story, but often we learn their story too late. That’s the reality that motivated Sheila Brune, MS, RN to create The Living History Program, a copyrighted program that records and creates a the personal story of the patients at CGH Medical Center in Sterling, Illinois. Those stories are then used to personalize the care of patients, making the experience for everyone more fulfilling.

During 41 years as a nurse and presently director of service excellence, Brune would often stand outside a patient’s room to listen to the interaction between patient and caregiver. Through these observations she noticed that the conversations were rarely about the patients’ lives. And when she read obituaries of patients who had passed, Brune found herself wishing she had known the same patients better when they were alive.

“There were things that I wished I could have talked to them about and I always had this sense of regret and remorse that I had not known the patient as well as I should have. Sometimes I would discover facts about them that moved me to a different level of compassion for them and I wondered if others might feel the same way as I did. I talked to social workers and other nurses in particular and found that they often felt the same as I did. I wanted to come up with a way that the healthcare team could have the information about the patient to use in their daily interactions,” Brune said.

“I discovered ways to make connections between patients and caregivers on different levels and taught staff. I then came up with the idea of making the story, that came from the improved conversations, a real gift to the patient and the family. I discovered that the staff were just craving this type of information, that the volunteers who talk to the patients love the process and that the patient and the family love the stories—so it was a total WIN and a WOW factor.”

Brune has a passion for making every patient feel special. Her career began as a staff nurse at a small hospital in Iowa. Today several degrees and certifications later, her duties are coaching and teaching customer service skills, and working every day to improve the patient’s perception of the care and to create the best patient experience. She passionately loves patients, families and hospitals.

How It Works

To make The Living History Program work, Brune created a detailed form which a volunteer fills out during an interview with the patient. This is used to write a one-page story that is designed to be a “springboard to conversation.” To do this within a facility requires card stock, a color printer, computer with Word software, and a laminator, This creates a beautiful finished formatted story to present to the patient and their family. The cost to start a program is usually less than $1000 and on-going costs of the program are minimal.

The Living History Program is copyrighted by Brune but there is no cost to use the program. Brune will come to a facility and train a staff on using the program for the cost of her travel expenses or she can give instructions by phone or email, for no fee.

Selecting which patients are subjects of The Living History Program is based on age or diagnosis, a referral from a staff member or simply someone who likes to share their story.

“We like to do stories on those who are older but it is not necessary that they all be elderly. We can do a story on anyone as long as they can answer the questions. If patients are confused, we often ask family to help us with details,” Brune said.

“We interview the patients using a standard format worksheet and create the stories from the worksheet. The story is delivered for proofreading, then corrected by the typist, and finally, the finished product is delivered to the patient.

We put one copy on the medical record for the staff to read. Patients often put the copy on their bulletin board for all to read, but that is their choice. In nursing homes I have often noticed they put the stories out in the hall outside the room, something we cannot do in the hospital.”

The benefits of the program come through the improved interaction between patient and staff and from the joy on the faces of family members, Brune said.

One of Brune’s customers is Memorial Hospital in Carthage, Illinois. The CEO, Ada Bair praised The Living History Program.

“Sheila brought Living History to our organization and what an impact it has had. Our hospital patients, nursing home residents and families love the personal touch. One thing I did not expect was what a positive impact it had on our State and Joint Commission surveyors. We have even had families use these wonderful stories at funeral services because they speak to the life in such a personal way."

For further information call: 815-564-4472 or email at

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