It takes a special kind of person to be a healthcare volunteer — and Augusta Health volunteers are no different. Whether they are escorting patients around campus, working in the thrift shop or bonding with patients in hospice, volunteers are making a world of difference for patients, their families and staff.
“They really are the first face of Augusta Health,” says Lee Phillips, director of hospital volunteers. “At almost every entrance to the hospital, the first person you encounter is a volunteer. How a person is met when they first arrive on campus is important, and the volunteers add that special touch. They offer an extra smile and hopefully make our patients feel welcome.”
There are two special groups of volunteers at Augusta Health: those who work in and around the hospital and those who work as hospice volunteers. Here is a closer look at both:
General Augusta Health volunteers
Augusta Health has around 350 volunteers working in different service areas in the main hospital building or in several ancillary buildings on campus, Phillips says. Forty-five of them also work at the hospital’s thrift shop in Staunton. Service areas include escorting patients to the right office or care department, driving the hospital shuttle bus, helping in the emergency room and coordinating outpatient services. Most volunteers work one shift each week for about four hours, mainly during the day, and hiring for each volunteer position is a robust process.
The majority of these volunteers are retired and decide to volunteer for similar reasons, Phillips says. “A lot of them do it because they have that call to give back, but also because they want to feel purposeful,” according to Phillips. “Volunteering offers the chance to network with their peer group and socialize together, especially for those who have lost their significant others.”
Apart from the main hospital, 114 volunteers help out in various ways with hospice care. “These volunteers are doing everything from administrative duties to working in the bereavement program or providing breaks for caregivers,” says Lori Showalter, volunteer coordinator of hospice volunteers. “They sit with patients for two to four hours so caregivers can go do things like get a haircut or eat lunch with a friend. We also have volunteers who sit at the bedside of patients who are dying, so families know someone is with their loved ones when they can’t be. And we have volunteers who simply provide companionship to nursing facility patients who are lonely.”
Volunteers with specific skills help hospice patients with the following services:
- Musical support (playing guitar and singing with patients)
- Massages to help with pain management
- Pet visitation: bringing therapy dogs for one-on-one time with patients who desire to see animals at the end of their lives
- Special projects: making birthday baskets for patients, knitting sweaters for teddy bears that get sent out to patients or baking cookies for marketing needs
“The spectrum of volunteers here is pretty broad; there is something for everyone,” Showalter says.
Hospice volunteers range in age: Some are in their late 20s, while one volunteer is almost 90. Most have hospice experience themselves or know someone who has, and want to give back, Showalter says. Some are also retired and want something meaningful to do with their time. “The difference they’re making is huge. Volunteers give a gift beyond measure and that is the gift of themselves and their time. They give their undivided attention to our patients.”
Whether a volunteer is helping out on campus or in hospice, Phillips and Showalter agree that everyone is rewarded during the experience. “Our volunteers get so much in return,” Showalter says. “The connections they make are priceless; I like to say they’re getting a direct deposit into their hearts.”
“I’ve learned a lot from them, what service and integrity mean at the end of the day,” Phillips adds. “I enjoy my job, and can’t say enough about what our volunteers do and bring to Augusta Health.”