Volunteers make a difference

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by Mike O’Brien

Just over a year ago, I applied to become a volunteer at Kemptville District Hospital (KDH). I had previously spent two years dealing with a serious illness, with medical care at several Ottawa hospitals and medical care facilities. Those facilities were large, and the volunteers had a difficult job providing advice and information to patients, given the large patient load and hospital size. I was determined, once I felt better, to provide support to the visitors attending KDH, based on what I had learned from my medical experience. I am writing this as a volunteer. My views are my own, and may not necessarily be those of either KDH or KDH Auxiliary.

Volunteers are essential to the operation of any hospital. Volunteers provide a no-cost addition to the hospital staff by doing things in support of the professional staff that frees them to focus on medical care. Hospital budgets are finite, and those funds are best directed to the provision of specially trained people in medical and administrative positions.

My volunteering experience for the past 14 months has been a weekly period of four hours in the Emergency Room (ER) waiting room, and some support in the ER itself. Other volunteers operate the Gift Shop and Coffee Bar, the proceeds of which are returned to the hospital, annually, for the purchase of equipment. There are also volunteers who assist residents in the Interim Long-Term and Convalescent Care wing of the hospital. Others greet visitors at the main entrance, and still others assist with some clerical needs.

In all cases, we offer a smiling face, a listening ear, and a willingness to help. Volunteers provide guidance to various places in the hospital, deliver warm blankets, and change linens in the ER when nursing staff are busy caring for patients. In the Interim Long Term and Convalescent Care wing, volunteers help to serve meals, assist with group exercise sessions, take time to have conversations or play card/board games with the residents, and support group activities.

The hospital runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are currently not enough volunteers to fill all the weekly daytime shifts. That leads to some volunteers doing shifts two, or three, or more times each week, with some shifts left unstaffed. It also doesn’t allow the gift shop to be kept open on weekends, nor after 4 pm.

For me, this period in the ER is the most satisfying part of my week. Why? Because I meet many interesting people, and I believe that I can make their visit to the hospital less challenging. I am the first person the visitor meets on arrival, and I advise them on how to navigate the hospital to find the care/information they need. I help visitors understand the triage process, and why they are waiting. Judiciously providing a little humour, the odd warm blanket, or maybe a comfort doll (handmade by volunteers) seems to improve the well-being of most visitors.

Won’t you consider being a Volunteer? You will be trained, and you will make a significant difference to the people who are seeking care. Drop into the ER and ask for a volunteer pamphlet. No charge for parking for less than 20 minutes. Alternatively, visit www.kdh.on.ca, where you can find an application form.

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