Medical facilities fill up each year with devoted people who love to serve others — sometimes despite their lack of love for hospitals.
“I don’t even like hospitals, but I like to make people feel better,” said Phylicia Eddy, a volunteer at Memorial Health System’s central campus in the pediatric patient care unit.
Both Memorial Health System and Penrose-St. Francis Health Center rely on volunteers for daily transactions with patients, families and staff.
Last year alone, Memorial’s 1,300 volunteers put in 123,000 hours, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates as a benefit of $2.3 million.
In 2006, Penrose had 726 volunteers, with 211 teenagers, contributing about 96,800 hours, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics values at $1.8 million.
Volunteer roles include patient/family escorts, pediatric playroom helpers, weekend or evening information desk attendants, public event volunteers and many others.
Eddy began volunteering about a year ago because she wanted to work with babies and add to her college application.
Geralyn Buscher-Goodman, a retired special education teacher, also wanted to work with the babies. She said before you can cuddle babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit you have to volunteer for six months.
Those who can’t overcome their phobia of hospitals can volunteer off-site through drives or by knitting blankets or caps.
Anyone age 14 and older can volunteer in the health care industry, and as the new hospitals open, more volunteers are needed.
Carole McCarthy, youth programs coordinator at Memorial, works with the Learning Link program where 35 high school seniors can shadow a professional in the health care system. Each student receives one credit hour for a semester working two-hour shifts, twice a week.
To get into the program, students must submit a letter of application, an essay and a letter of recommendation, McCarthy said.
Meghan Boyer and Caleigh Duran, seniors at Liberty High School, and Sheila Sugarman, senior at Sand Creek, recently finished the semester program.
Boyer chose the surgery unit because she figured she’d see the most there, though she will likely not make it a career.
“It’s a lot different than it looks on TV. Everything is covered. The only thing open is the part they are working on … sometimes I can’t even work my fork at the dinner table let alone repair inside someone,” she said.
Some choose a department because they are interested in going into that field. Sugarman said she wants to go into pharmacy. In the radiology unit, she helped make special chemotherapy medicines.
Duran wants to be a nurse. In the NICU she had the opportunity to help save a baby.
“I was told they have womb rooms at Memorial North that simulate a mother’s womb and help the baby grow,” she said.
Volunteering can be about instant gratification — based on a person’s particular skills.
“Now it is so skill based … instead of giving them 40 hours a week, people volunteer at multiple places,” said Robert Hedden, director of volunteer services at Memorial Hospital.
The junior volunteer program, ages 14 to 18, and the adult program are similar. After the application, a personal interview is arranged and those accepted go through a three- to four- hour orientation, a background check, a two-step tuberculosis test and then receive a mentor/trainer in their department.
“The spirit is still alive — people want to give,” Hedden said.
Of the volunteers, 925 are adults and 375 are junior volunteers.
“We get to know the volunteers well. I’ve been to funerals, weddings, ball games and baby showers,” said Bonnie Nixon, adult service program coordinator at Memorial.
Penrose volunteers work in various capacities in the hospital — from patient care to the gift shop.
“We are one of two hospitals in the state, the other is Boulder Community, to have our gifts shops run entirely by volunteers,” said Beth Zautke, director of the volunteer program. “We have three gift shops, one in each of the facilities.”
Volunteer sites include Penrose Hospital, Penrose Community Hospital, St. Francis Health Center, Namaste Alzheimer Center, Health Learning Center and Langstaff Brown Medical Center in Woodland Park.
Volunteers serve in 103 departments throughout their facilities from patient care to hospitality to clerical to “rehab buddies” to spiritual care to knitters to the bloodmobile.
The “rehab buddies” is a doctor-referral program, which is set up to give hope and encouragement to patients who have gone through traumas such as strokes, head injuries and spinal cord injuries.
Volunteers at Penrose range from ages 14 to 93 and are asked to do a minimum commitment of four hours per week.
Penrose also has a teen and an adult volunteer program. The teen program has about 125 volunteers, ages 14 through 17, and the contracts are signed for 30 hours a semester.
Training is each September, January and June, and their requirements are the same for teens as for the adults, but the teens have to have a letter of reference from their high school counselor, said Sandra Duve, coordinator for volunteer services.
After submitting an application with two letters of reference, each volunteer attends a two-hour orientation session and then completes the necessary test to work in a closed medical facility such as blood draw and TB test. The training can range from two hours up to nine, next a background check is done and a hospital photo ID and uniform is issued.
“Seven students have more than 200 hours of service and they serve as mentors of new students and have many teams they check on,” Duve said.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of couples that are coming in to volunteer, newly retired couples,” she said. “I try to schedule them on the same day, different departments.”
“We can always use new volunteers, we are never full to the brim,” Zautke said.
Duve said she is taking names of those wanting to volunteer at the new facility when it opens in August.