Paul Delehanty likes to be called Skip and he won’t answer to his real name often. The cancer survivor volunteers at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital.

He talks to patients who have been through a similar experience, offers comfort and loves doing it. It gives him purpose, he says.

Aside from a great way to give back to the community, volunteering for some residents is giving them a purpose and for others a chance to experience the different layers of the medical field.

Several hospitals in Montgomery County offer volunteer programs for adults and high school students. They have become an integral part of the hospital’s daily operations down to manning the small gift shops.

Memorial Hermann The Woodlands, MD Anderson The Woodlands, Texas Children’s The Woodlands, Houston Methodist The Woodlands and CHI St. Luke’s Health-The Woodlands believe that volunteers play an essential role in giving that extra-special attention and care for their patients.

“Our volunteers are a part of our patient care team as they are often the first touch point for our patients and their families. The talents and compassion they offer support our staff in providing the best health care to our patients,” said Debbie Sukin, CEO, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital, regional senior vice president, Houston Methodist.

Volunteers offer patients a smile as they walk into the automatic doors of a hospital, a person to talk to while undergoing treatment, someone who will read you your favorite book when patients are unable to do so.

Essential programs

The volunteer programs are essentially the same in terms of the age group of applicants but vary in duties. Every summer a group of high school students get a chance to volunteer at the hospital they’ve applied to work for.

The chosen group of students are assigned simple tasks such as helping nurses and doctors with supplies, greeting visitors or patients and are limited to patient interaction in some cases.

Adult volunteer programs are different but similar. A lot of the older volunteers at these hospitals are retired, or have gone through a health issue themselves and want to give back to their community by being there for other patients. They want to help them through the difficult times they’re facing undergoing treatments and frequent hospital visits.

The hospitals look for volunteers that are able to handle a commitment of three to four hours a week. Each volunteer is thoroughly back ground checked, health screened and are made sure they understand HIPPA which is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Patient confidentiality is stressed in new employment onboarding after the applicants are chosen from the interview process. The volunteers are trained, just like employees, on the hospitals’ policies and procedures. Depending on what department the volunteers are matched in further training is provided later and volunteers are instructed to do certain duties that won’t over-step a doctors or nurses tasks.

“I train my volunteers to assess what the patient may need like social work or patient advocacy if they’re having an issue, provide them with he information and let the patient call,” Scott Zylstra, volunteer coordinator at MD Anderson The Woodlands.

Most volunteers will stay volunteering for years to come and others will stay with their contracted commitment of four to six months and move on. At Memorial Hermann The Woodlands a contract is for two years.

“They’re (the volunteers) are a tremendous asset to our program,” said Karen Bilsing, manager for volunteer services at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands. “We are delighted to have them here.”

Volunteers are there by choice and show that in the enthusiasm while they work. Gypsie Hufnagle has a lot of excitement and joy when she comes to Memorial Hermann The Woodlands everyday to run the gift shop where she is a volunteer manager.

For 17 years Hufnagle has given her time to the gift shop after her children grew up and she juggled several jobs. She realized this is what made her most happy and after her first day never looked back or thought about doing anything else. It gives her a purpose and a chance to do what she loves.

Hufnagle says the smiles and good wishes she receives is all the paycheck she needs.

Building relationships

The volunteer-patient interaction and relationship forms while volunteers go about doing their duties. The non-clinical personnel often times is more inviting for patients who may just want to sit down and talk to someone who’s not their doctor or nurse.

“I think they’re a huge asset not only in the time that they give us it’s also just that spirit that they bring here,” said Amy Ginger, volunteer coordinator at Houston Methodist The Woodlands. “A lot of times when they’re (volunteers) interacting with patient and guests most of the times just having that outsider, that volunteer there really kind of makes that experience for that patient.”

Ginger says the a lot of time the patient will already know that the volunteer isn’t going to be a medical personnel and that helps the patient open up a little bit and talk more about what they’re feeling. Just having a warm face to greet when on campus makes all the difference to the patients she added.

Similarly, Texas Children’s, MD Anderson and CHI St. Luke’s Health campuses in The Woodlands volunteers offer a wide range of services. They greet patients, read to children, religious services, walking the patients out, helping at the front desk, roaming around with a mobile tea cart for patients who want a good cup of tea, baby holders, and are the extra hands on deck for these healthcare facilities while offering support to the patients.

Debra Staley, volunteer leader and communications relations at CHI St. Luke’s Health-The Woodlands says her oldest volunteer is 93 years-old. She says they celebrate their volunteers twice a year with holiday luncheons and in the spring time the hospital holds a volunteer appreciation week and a luncheon.

“I think that they’re an extra set of eyes and ears for us. They have more direct patient visitor contact than most of our staff in terms of they’re in the lobby and they’re the line of defense. They’re (the volunteers) there when they (the patients) arrive,” she said.

The volunteers are a very steady presence in the facility she added.

“They’re a joyful group”

Most volunteers can be seen in the lobby, patient waiting areas, the library, gift shops and info desks around the hospitals. Employees of the hospital can’t always be there all the time so the volunteers really help with that.

“They’re really one of the first faces or the last faces you see when you come to our campus,” Cynda Conrad said, manager of patient family services in child life at Texas Children’s The Woodlands. “They have a huge impact on our patient care and our patient satisfaction with our families when they come in.”

Visitors, patients and staff enjoy having the volunteers around so much that they’re often requested for more Cynda added.

“They bring so much to the table,” she said.

[email protected]

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