By Ken Garfield, Novant Health Healthy Headlines
If you thrive on helping others in their time of need, Novant Health has a job for you.
The call has gone out for volunteers to serve primarily at our 15 hospitals across North Carolina. Novant Health’s 35,000 team members and physician partners can’t do it alone. There are patients, families and visitors who need a warm welcome as they arrive at the front door. Directions to the elevator. A therapy dog to pet. A blanket during chemo. A smile to brighten a difficult day.
In the midst of COVID-19, there are staff members who need someone to say, with words or simply a look, “Thank you.”
Before the pandemic Novant Health had nearly 4,000 volunteers. All volunteer operations were suspended when COVID arrived. While those opportunities have resumed, there are only about 900 people participating. Many have not returned.
Fears around COVID have been one of the reasons cited by some volunteers who have been reluctant to return. That’s understandable. But know that your health is Novant Health’s No. 1 priority.
“We have taken careful measures to keep our keep patients, team members, visitors and volunteers safe at our hospitals and clinics,” said Becky DeCamillis, a physician assistant with Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists in Winston-Salem. “By properly wearing a mask and being fully vaccinated, you greatly reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.” And, she added: If you fall into any higher risk categories for COVID, check with your doctor first.
And so, Novant Health is inviting everyone 14 and over who has been fully vaccinated, screened and is fine with wearing a mask and taking every other precaution: Come and help us comfort others.
Interested in volunteering? Here’s how.
Visit NovantHealth.org/volunteers. Click on the hospital or other location you prefer (the list is on the right side), look at the list of jobs and begin the process. Volunteers are asked to work at least four hours a week, complete a health screening and follow all safety protocols.
To volunteer at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, click here.
Evie Kendall, manager of volunteer services at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, explained that volunteer job descriptions vary. But the common thread is being friendly and helpful. Lobby Greeters, for example, practice the 10-5 rule. When visitors get within 10 feet, you greet them with a smile. Within 5 feet, you greet them with a spirited “Hello.”
In Charlotte, volunteer Bhoomi Ponkiya, 21, is using her experience to log patient experience hours she’ll need in her application for medical school.
The recent UNCC-Charlotte graduate is taking a gap year because COVID shutdowns prevented her from getting those hours. “I’m having a lot fun,” said Ponkiya, who is escorting patients at Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital. “I’m interacting with patients and getting to practice my communication skills.”
Among the opportunities:
The perfect name for volunteers who help visitors find the elevators, gift shop, even where to find the sugar packs in the Starbucks that operate in several Novant Health hospitals. “We don’t point or give directions,” Kendall says. “We walk the person.”
The impact that volunteers can have is beyond measure.
In 2017, Paul Johnson spent the last two weeks of his life at New Hanover Regional Medical Center before cancer took him at age 68. On his first or second night in the hospital, he asked his wife, Jeannie, if she could find a milkshake for him. On the way to the cafeteria, Johnson lost her way. The tears came.
Then so did a volunteer, a woman in her 30s or 40s. The volunteer escorted her to the cafeteria, helped her make a chocolate milkshake and then paid for it. Johnson never got the volunteer’s name, but she’s also never forgotten the moment when her cry for help was heard and answered. Now Johnson is the one listening for those cries.
She began volunteering at the hospital three weeks before COVID, which put a temporary end to volunteers’ service. Once the vaccination clinics were up and running, she volunteered as often as possible. Now she’s training to be an ambassador in the cancer unit. “It all began with the volunteer who was kind enough to be kind to me when she realized I needed help,” Johnson said, crying softly at the memory.
The first morning that Claudia Schaefer, 64, of Winston-Salem went for chemo at the Derrick L. Davis Cancer Institute at Forsyth Medical Center, she was serenaded by volunteer guitarist Tom Deaton. Now Schaefer plays piano in the cancer institute lobby. “People walk by and smile, often stopping to say how much they like the song I’m playing. I tell them I’m a survivor, too. It’s a strong bond.” Her day to play is Wednesday.
The recent snow and ice didn’t keep Cordelia, a Goldendoodle, from letting patients and family pet her at Forsyth Medical Center. She’s adored everywhere, especially in the behavioral health unit. Cordelia is also the center of attention among staffers who relish a few moments’ peace during their break. Get your dog certified and trained and he or she, too, can love and be loved.
There are many other jobs: Making floral arrangements. Working in the gift shop. Restocking blankets and supplies. Perhaps the happiest gig of all: Push a patient’s wheelchair to their waiting vehicle and wish them well as they head home from the hospital.
Schaefer will never forget how staff and volunteers helped her through her time at the cancer institute. She learned to love peanut butter crackers courtesy of the snack baskets that volunteers offered to patients. She even got her husband to buy some to tide her over until the next chemo day. Once she was in remission and able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, she started volunteering. She found meaning, and spread good cheer, in playing piano and telling patients about her online support groups, nutrition classes and where to find the best wigs. She was also happy to show them that her hair grew back and theirs will, too.
Schaefer plans to continue volunteering even after scans late last year showed that her cancer has come back. “I was told that when I restart chemo, I won’t be able to visit with chemo patients one-on-one but I should still be able to play the piano.”