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Volunteering offers numerous benefits to everyone involved

| Healthy You | Community

Young person pushing a cart of activity items in hospital hallway

Depending on the community’s COVID-19 transmission rates, PeaceHealth programs welcome many volunteers back.

Have you ever stopped at the information desk for directions to check in for a medical procedure? Or browsed the hospital’s gift shop? Or heard strains of harp or piano music in the hospital lobby?

Then you’ve encountered volunteers at PeaceHealth.

Volunteers at our hospitals, clinics and hospice programs are an important part of the PeaceHealth experience. And the service of volunteers is enjoyed by many — including patients, families, caregivers and the volunteers themselves.

They were deeply missed during the pandemic. As community transmission rates ease, many PeaceHealth locations are excited to offer volunteer opportunities once more.

Volunteers make a difference

“I will never forget the first day one of our regular long-time volunteers was back at the information desk (after months away due to the pandemic),” says Kristy Murray, the supervisor of guest and volunteer services at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington.

“A caregiver turned the corner and on seeing the familiar face, she raised both her hands and with tears in her eyes, cried ‘I'm so happy to see you.’ It was a very emotional moment that shows just how much our volunteers mean to the staff.”

Sarah Bollard, volunteer coordinator for PeaceHealth United General Medical Center in Sedro Woolley, Washington, echoes the sentiment.

“Volunteers bring a joy and a passion to this place,” she says. “They choose to be here because they really love their community and the hospital — a healing place.”

Benefits of volunteering

While staff, patients and families clearly feel the benefits of being served, it’s quite common for volunteers to express gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

“So often, volunteers say ‘I think I’m getting more out of this than what I’m giving,’,” notes Molly Watson, the director of volunteer and auxiliary services for PeaceHealth facilities in northwest Washington communities. “Volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and connection.”

Two people in masks talking in a hospital hallway.

Nancy Rodriguez, a retiree, has volunteered for years with PeaceHealth United General auxiliary and the hospital gift shop. “I feel fortunate staying active and contributing to the success of our little store and supporting fundraisers by the auxiliary,” she says. “The satisfaction of ordering merchandise that folks can purchase for loved ones who are receiving care only validates my involvement.  In short, I stay active, make great friends, support a worthy organization; what’s not to like?”

Volunteers of all ages agree. “Getting to help patients with even the smallest things feels really special,” says Noora Osman, a college student who volunteers for the concierge desk at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington.

Some volunteers who plan to go into the medical field find that volunteering helps them gain a deeper understanding into how hospitals work.

Others cite physical exercise as a benefit of volunteer duties as well. This is particularly true for those assigned to restock supplies, escort patients or just get things from one place to another. “Some volunteers report getting 20,000 steps per day,” notes Murray.

Types of volunteer opportunities

Volunteer roles can be in-person, remote or a combination of the two. And the types vary by location. 

Common roles include greeters, gift shop cashiers, transport service, unit support and clerical assistance.

Some opportunities are based on a volunteer’s special knowledge or skillset. Bollard notes one volunteer routinely tests the radio systems that serve as a back-up for two-way communication in emergencies. Another helps answer questions about Medicare or Medicaid resources and still another is a harpist who has been volunteering his time and talents since 1998.

This is a small example of the breadth and depth of experience that PeaceHealth volunteers bring to their roles in hospitals across the system. 

“We really entrust our volunteers with a lot of responsibility,” says Watson. “They really do feel like they’re part of something meaningful.”

Changes due to the pandemic

No matter where volunteers serve, Watson emphasizes that their safety is PeaceHealth’s highest priority. “We make sure volunteers are safe. They follow the same guidelines that our caregivers do. There’s a lot more training than there was prior to the pandemic for everyone’s safety and well-being.”

Volunteers are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and follow the usual practices that keep everyone safe, such as frequent handwashing, masking and social distancing, depending on their assignment location.

Man wearing a face mask restocks linen shelves in hospital

Onboarding orientation and additional role-based training may be done in-person, remote or both, depending on the location.

While some PeaceHealth programs are not actively recruiting, most are still taking applications, with the understanding that the decision about whether or when volunteers can be on campus will depend on the community’s transmission rate at any given time.

It can take time to complete the application steps so despite these uncertainties, it’s good to have that part of the process completed, in case things open up sooner.

If you’re interested in volunteering at PeaceHealth, check for more details about the location nearest you.