Hospitals rely on volunteers

By Clay Wilson

Cheryl Norman says that sometimes a volunteer can literally make a hospital worker's day.

"On those really busy days, if you have an extra pair of hands to give a baby a bath, it can make the difference between making it through the day and not making it through the day," she said.

Norman, clinical manager for the Mother/Baby Nursing Unit at Southern Regional Medical Center, is one of many staffers at both SRMC and Henry Medical Center who benefit from the labor of volunteers.

With April designated as National Volunteer Month, employees at both hospitals reflected on the contributions of these unpaid – but no less dedicated – workers.

According to Vicki Westervelt, volunteer liaison coordinator at HMC, volunteers fill many roles for which the hospital would otherwise have to hire additional staff. She said the medical center's 148 volunteers serve in three main areas: support units, hospitality services and non-clinical patient relations.

Volunteers in the support areas work in departments such as human resources or education. Hospitality volunteers greet hospital visitors and direct them to where they need to go. The non-clinical volunteers run errands for nurses, help them with paperwork and visit with the patients.

Fred Burgess works in such a role at SRMC. The 66-year-old Jonesboro man has volunteered at the Riverdale hospital since November of last year.

Besides working at the hospital's courier desk, Burgess also serves as a "patient visitor." He said he periodically takes a cart of ice and drinks to patients' rooms, and also just chats with the patients.

"(I) bring good cheer," as I say," he said.

Burgess was in the Army for 20 years, then worked 25 more years as an eligibility worker for the state Department of Family and Children's Services. After he retired, he said, he realized he needed something to keep his mind occupied.

"I looked around and said, ?Hmm, I've got 24/7, so what am I going to do?'"

He said his wife was already volunteering at SRMC, knitting items for the Newborns in Need program. And after he met Cynthia Jenkins, the hospital's director of volunteer services, he said, he was hooked.

"We're very flexible – We always work around them," Jenkins said when discussing the scheduling for the hospital's more than 150 volunteers.

Burgess works from 1 to 5 p.m. each Thursday, and is also on call in case he's needed. He said that going in for a day of volunteering is something he likes.

"It's something I look forward to." he said. "It gives me a chance to be with people."

Westervelt said that there are a wide variety of motivations for being a volunteer – from wanting to enhance a resume to filling spare time. It's her job as volunteer coordinator, she said, to try and help both the volunteer and the hospital.

"Everybody has a different reason for volunteering, and just by chatting with them I can find out a little bit about that, and hopefully put them in a position that will fill their needs and also serve the hospital," she said.

Both Westervelt and Jenkins said their respective hospitals welcome new volunteers.

"We'd love to have them come on board," Jenkins said.