Help yourself: Volunteer | The Daily Standard Stories

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Hospital’s Helpful Ambassadors Balm for Patients and Staff

By Georgia Rindler

Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

Terry Liette of Coldwater answers the phone at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater where he volunteers.

Most patients entering the hospital would rather not be there, so it’s nice to be greeted with a friendly smile and a kind word.

That’s the goal of volunteers at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater. These helpful ambassadors ease the nerves of patients in a place known to induce anxiety.

Director Deb Hemmelgarn and Coordinator Jenni Miller of the Medical, Educational and Developmental (MED) Foundation and Voluntary Services are thrilled to have about 118 extra pairs of hands and hearts at the hospital.

Terry Liette of Coldwater volunteers once or twice a week at the east entrance of the hospital. He directs patients and visitors and accompanies them to their destination, assists staff with dismissals and puts patients at ease.

Entering a hospital can increase stress, Liette said, so he tries to share happy thoughts with patients and visitors. Twice a day, he also visits several departments, collecting information and documents and delivering them.

Dore Glass, Celina, has worked in the gift shop for about five years. She is a social person and enjoys helping people. Her past experience in retail made the gift shop the perfect place. She works every Thursday afternoon. She said the regular schedule helps her know what day of the week it is.

Hemmelgarn said the number of hours volunteers provide saves Mercer Health time and money. Volunteers also lighten the workload of hospital staff.

“They do a great job, and when they’re not around, I hear about it,” Hemmelgarn said.

Miller believes that volunteers also contribute to staff morale.

“You have extra people who are happy to be here,” Miller said. “They want to help, they want to be part of this organization.”

Hemmelgarn said volunteers can choose which department they work in and what they want to do, noting that “everyone has something to give.”

Certain areas of the hospital are more patient-focused.

When applying, applicants complete an application noting their interests. Miller said volunteers schedule themselves when and how often they want to work. A typical shift is three hours.

Some work several times a week, others only once a month. Others only intervene for special projects.

Miller said hospital volunteers are evenly distributed across departments where they can help the most. Gift shop volunteers help with day-to-day operations, including some who help with office duties. Eucharistic ministers bring daily communion at the request of patients and a chaplaincy service has a call schedule and makes rounds with patients. Volunteers assist emergency room and surgery center staff.

Hemmelgarn said a group of talented women are repairing bedding and dresses and will make a skirt for the Christmas tree to be held in the lobby. Those who work in patient experience greet patients and visitors entering the hospital, deliver trays to day surgery if dietary staff are busy, provide information about local churches and restaurants to visitors, keep wheelchairs in lobbies clean and organized, and perform other duties.

Volunteers involved in special projects can water flowers, give gifts for staff, help out at the charity ball or put up Christmas decorations. Hemmelgarn said there are also offsite opportunities to volunteer with therapy and home care.

“There’s a place for everyone,” Hemmelgarn said.

The volunteers are provided with a red vest so that they can be identified.

Liette, who retired a year ago, said volunteering was a perfect fit for her. He has made new friends and likes to take responsibility for part of his day.

When helping someone out of day surgery, he likes to comment on the weather or something positive.

“We’re the last person they’ll see from Mercer Health,” he noted.

He wants them to leave with a positive image of the hospital.

Liette remembers helping a six-year-old girl leave the hospital. Rolling her to her waiting car, he sensed that she was still a little scared so he struck up a conversation.

He told her he liked her cute dress and inquired about her stuffed animal and her name. He liked to make her feel better.

“It’s been a good day,” he said.

Working in the gift shop, Glass doesn’t have big moments, but rather small memorable incidents.

The gift shop gives Glass a close-up view of the helicopter landing pad. It affects her every time she sees a patient being airlifted to a larger hospital, she said.

Tasks like helping a dad choose a gift for his wife or new baby are rewarding, she said. Often people come in saying they are just watching while waiting for a friend or family member to get tested. Being able to explore the gift shop and chat with a volunteer is a distraction, Glass said.

Hemmelgarn said there are very basic health requirements for volunteers. All training is done at the hospital with sessions arranged as needed.

“We set them up, we train them and we ask them where they need to be,” she said.

Young people can start at age 15 with the Volunteen program. Hemmelgarn and Miller oversee all programs.

An orientation session is organized each year for the volunteers.

The Mercer Health Volunteer Association, founded in 1976, operates as its own entity and is governed by a volunteer board. The group is in charge of fundraising and raising money from them. Sleeping bags in the birthing center and wheelchairs for use throughout the hospital were donated by the volunteer association.

The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended many programs, including the volunteer association, Hemmelgarn said. It took time to contact volunteers, set up schedules and get the whole thing going again.

Things have changed and some volunteers are no longer interested or able to help. Many of those who participate in the Volunteen program have left for college and recruitment efforts have not been put in place.

A Volunteer Appreciation Dinner was held once a year before COVID-19 and Hemmelgarn hopes to have that back, along with fundraisers such as the Bake & Egg sale and the Mother’s Day plant sale.

“We’re bringing all of those back this year too,” Hemmelgarn said.

Miller said they could use more volunteers in all areas, especially patient experience. She anticipates that there will also be a need in the gift shop as its opening hours will be extended. It should be open in its new location by late May or early June. There may also be an increase in traffic since the Cedar Table Cafe reopened to the public.

“We’ll accept any help we can get,” Miller added.

Those interested in sharing their time and talents can call Volunteer Services at 419-678-5132 or visit the Mercer Health website for more information. Prospective volunteers will be required to complete an application and background information request form.

Liette says he is often surprised to meet someone he knows well at the hospital.

“As a volunteer, there are very strict rules about HIPPA violations. Every time I finish my day, everything stays here,” he said.

Both Hemmelgarn and Miller agree that volunteers are an important part of the hospital and we miss them when they are not around.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to have them here,” Miller said.

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