Local volunteers lend a helping hand to hospitals and patients

HELPING HANDS: David Johnson, left, and Fred Ayers, right, volunteer their time at Mission Hospital's emergency room. Judy Haney, center, is manager of volunteer services at Mission but started as a volunteer there over 25 years ago. Photo by Emily Nichols

You don’t have to be a medical professional to play a vital role in the medical field. The folks at Mission Hospital (as well as countless other wellness and medical organizations) know this to be true. Last year, 671 volunteers contributed nearly 84,000 hours of service to Mission Hospital, says Judy Haney, manager of Mission Hospital volunteer services.

This freely given time — used to complete tasks ranging from clerical work to stocking supplies to escorting patients from the waiting rooms to treatment — was worth nearly $1.9 million dollars in cost savings.

Of course, volunteers, staff and patients don’t see their contributions in terms of dollar signs. Mission Health volunteer and retiree John Underwood often shows up an hour early to his shift in the emergency room simply because he enjoys it. After retiring from a career in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, Underwood feels right at home helping out at Mission. “I’ve been fortunate in my career. Most of my life has been in the medical field, and for me, this was a way to give back,” he explains.

“It also satisfies a desire in me to support and help people, and since I know a lot about medicine, being in an area where my knowledge can be helpful seemed like a good fit for both Mission and for me,” he adds.

Underwood works in both the emergency room and the perianesthesia department. In the triage area, his job is to talk to patients and make them feel comfortable while they are waiting to be seen. He makes sure all patients have security badges, escorts patients to rooms and gets them ready so the nurses and doctors can see them. Underwood also helps to “turn over rooms, which shortens the wait time for the next patient.

It may not sound like much, but all these little things add up to making a huge difference in the lives of patients and staff. It also makes a big difference in the lives of the volunteers. “I retired 10 years ago and I’m enjoying this,” says Underwood. “The people are great to work with. They’re helpful; they’re friendly; and it really brightens my day.”

Alan Tucker is a regular volunteer at CarePartners and has a similar list of tasks he completes during his weekly shift. He describes his job as doing “whatever needs to be done,” which might include cleaning a set of giant checkers used for occupational therapy or restocking items in the kitchen.

Tucker was inspired to offer his time after he had been a patient himself. “I had a stroke 4 1/2 years ago on Christmas Eve,” he explains. “I spent 2 1/2 weeks here as a patient, and I just thought these people were great, and so I came back to volunteer.”

So not only can Tucker offer his help with a range of everyday tasks, he can also offer his experience. “It just feels good to come back and work to help these people out in my own small way of doing these odds and ends,” he says. “Also, the other thing that they will ask me to do because I am an ex-patient, especially if it’s a stroke patient. …They’ll ask me to talk to the patient.

“We will just kind of compare notes on what we’ve been through, the importance of working hard and having patience as we get better. There’s a sense that I can commiserate with them in a way that the therapists can’t. And it’s encouraging to them to see that I’m — I don’t know if I would say back to normal, but normal for me, I suppose.”

Volunteer coordinator Myrna Twitchen says that CarePartners currently has 280 volunteers but always needs more help. The opportunities vary from working in the adult day program and assisting with activities, stocking linen cabinets and relaying messages to nurses, or simply spending time and having conversations with patients. Volunteers include retirees, high school students, prospective physical therapy students and more, she says.

“A lot of people have had family in hospice and have a deep connection with CarePartners, and they want to help other people who are going through it,” says Twitchen. “It really helps for hospice patients who don’t have family in the area.”

To learn more about volunteering at Mission Hospital, visit missionhealth.org/volunteer, or call volunteer services at 213-1057. To learn more about volunteering at CarePartners, visit carepartners.org or call 274-9567, ext. 4280.

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About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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