Volunteers Find Meaning in their Role at Hospital
December 13, 2022
North Conway, NH – At the hospital, the first face most patients see is a volunteer, offering a welcoming greeting or instructions for where to go. Hospital visitors usually have a lot on their minds when they arrive. A friendly welcome from someone who is there to help them regain their bearings can make a world of difference.
Memorial Hospital’s volunteer group has donated countless hours of their time for over 50 years and now have 80 people on their roster who span 13 service areas throughout the facility. Volunteers take on tasks such as running The Sun Catcher Gift Shop, greeting patients as they arrive at the main entrance, or helping out in specific departments with patient comfort or clerical tasks.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about changes for volunteers at Memorial. A remote COVID-19 vaccine clinic was set up in North Conway village which inspired 30 new volunteers to lend a hand. For safety reasons, the hospital paused usual volunteer duties on the main hospital campus, and has only recently opened these positions back up.
“Volunteers started returning to the hospital earlier this summer when COVID-19 levels began improving,” says Peter Waugh, Volunteer Services Coordinator. “Most volunteer activity is now back to the usual pace, though some direct patient volunteer programs are still paused that we hope to bring back.”
Beverly Taylor, the volunteer group’s board president, has volunteered her time at the Sun Catcher Gift Shop since she moved to the area in 2009. “I like to give back for all that I’ve been given. I am a breast cancer survivor and I’ve had my share of hospital visits,” Beverly explains. “I’ve seen how wonderful the medical staff are and I wanted to give back. They are so focused on their patients and we as volunteers can really help with the little things.”
Jennie Mathisen, new to the volunteer group, helps with patient comfort care in oncology. “It doesn't matter if you're doing huge things or little things,” says Mathisen. “It all helps. Healthcare workers worked hard through the pandemic and stuck through it all. Anything I can do to take something off their plate feels like a good thing.”
Taylor expressed her appreciation for the structure and routine that volunteering offers as a retiree, but it is the interactions with people passing through that Taylor finds to be most meaningful in her role. “Sometimes a patient or a family member will come into the shop who has just received difficult news. I have comforted many of them. These are rare moments. Sometimes these folks just want to talk and I’m glad to be there to offer some compassion.”
Mathisen values the connections she makes. “In the era of COVID when people have been keeping to themselves, it helps to feel like you're a part of something bigger.” Mathisen provides comfort care to patients undergoing chemotherapy. If they need something, Mathisen is there to bring patients refreshments, a blanket, or the Conway Daily Sun to read. “It must be the mom in me, something I'm driven to do. I’m happy to be there for patients and bring them what they need to feel a bit more comfortable or just be there to listen if they need to talk.”
Waugh is working closely with hospital leaders to find the right timing to bring back some of the unique direct patient programs. “I’d love to see childcare for The New Life Program return,” says Waugh, referring to a prenatal substance use disorder treatment program. “Volunteers used to care for the children of the mothers during their sessions. No One Dies Alone is another meaningful program where volunteers come to sit with a patient who is at the end of their life and either does not have family or their family is unable to be with them in person.”
Waugh works with volunteers to find a good match for their schedule and their interests. “Some folks have a particular interest or skill,” explains Waugh. “My goal is to find out what sparks the volunteer’s interest and fit them with the right role. Everyone volunteers for their own reason. Some volunteers come with a medical background. Others are inspired to give back because they had a meaningful experience with their own care or that of a family member. Some are interested in working at Memorial and want to get a feel for the culture. It is a really diverse group.”
The volunteer program was established in 1969. Volunteer roles have evolved over the years, but the program has maintained the same goals: to help the hospital, serve the community, and be there for patients. The volunteers brought the Sun Catcher Gift Shop from a small display of coffee and candy bars to a boutique with jewelry, toys, clothing, books, snacks, and convenience items in the early 2000s. The profits of the store are used for scholarships and to assist with equipment and program expenses at Memorial.
The volunteer group is always recruiting new volunteers. Taylor hopes to see a new wave of volunteers join the group. “A lot of volunteers are older and we won't be doing this forever. The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of volunteers and some aren't coming back. It's a good program and a great way to help the community. This hospital plays an important role in the community and it means a lot to support that.”
About Memorial Hospital
Memorial Hospital is a not-for-profit 25-bed Critical Access Hospital located in North Conway, NH, and is a member of the MaineHealth family. Its hospital services include a 24-hour emergency department, surgery center, clinical laboratory, heart health & wellness programs, imaging services, cardiopulmonary care, family birthing center, oncology, chemotherapy and infusion services. Practices include primary care and family medicine, diabetes care, behavioral health, women's health, podiatry, orthopedics and physical therapy. Memorial Hospital is also home to The Merriman House nursing home, which provides senior care services in a comfortable, home-like setting. For more information, www.memorialhospitalnh.org or call 603-356-5461.