Volunteers keep hospital healthy

St. Mary currently benefits from the services of 95 volunteers, who last year worked 15,092 hours.

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Providence St. Mary Foundation and Volunteer Coordinator Lindsey Oldridge checks out one of her bailiwicks, in the gift shop at the hospital.

WALLA WALLA - Hospitals don't run on paid, specialized medical talent alone.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla is no exception.

"They provide that extra element of great service," said Lindsey Oldridge, St. Mary Foundation and volunteer coordinator. "They make life a lot easier for everyone around here."

St. Mary currently benefits from the services of 95 volunteers, who last year worked 15,092 hours, she said.

There is plenty of variety available in the work, so volunteering is certainly not boring. The skills of volunteers are applied in departments, including the Emergency Room, gift shop, Regional Cancer Center, main admitting desk and rehab department. And no one is turned loose without a little training.

"They get a hospital orientation and a department-specific orientation," Oldridge said.

Hospital staff work with the individual's talents and interests to route them where they need to be.

Volunteers range in age from 18 to those in their 90s and their work comes with perks: hands-on experience to include in a resume, new friends and professional contacts, a chance to get out of the house and contribute to the community and the personal satisfaction of giving of oneself.

"We get a lot of college students who want clinical experience," Oldridge said.

St. Mary also has two new volunteer positions, she said. "One is a comfort rounding volunteer in the nursing units; they can bring warm blankets, water flowers and just be there to talk. The other is a same-day surgery volunteer position to coordinate keeping the family updated about where the patient is, what room they're in and when they can go back to see them."

Often the volunteers call the hospital to get involved and then perhaps later join a volunteer organization. Or they can go to the Center at the Park and connect with the volunteer organization there.

"It works both ways," she said. "If we need someone we can call over there; it's a great resource. In general our volunteers start here and then join the Center at the Park."

Right now they need help in the gift shop, where Oldridge said volunteers "have a lot of fun stocking product and meeting people."

Retirees Ben and Kay Workman volunteer at St. Mary.

She is a retired teacher and he spent 30 years as a machinist in Seattle. He started volunteering in 2001 at Highline Medical Center's emergency room. She began volunteering in 2006 in the gift shop at Highline, near Burien.

He said he eventually opted out of the emergency room - he kept getting sick and would bring it home to his wife - and instead started volunteering at Highline's cancer center.

In 2009 the couple decided to move to Walla Walla, and it was only natural for them to check out volunteer opportunities at St. Mary. She began at the front desk and then became a substitute at the gift shop, which morphed into full-time hours. He volunteers in the cancer center and also helps out at the local St. Vincent de Paul Society food bank.

At the cancer center, Ben Workman said, "Some of the people that come in there just grab your heart ... I got so good at talking to people they had me come in to sit beside them and just talk."

Kay Workman says her volunteer work at the gift shop is "a chance to brighten (people's) day."

The process for getting involved in a volunteer position at the hospital is a simple series of steps, said Oldridge.

"Come in. See me, pick up an application, indicate the area they might be interested in, talk about duties and tasks. Bring the application back," she said. "After we do a background check, they attend an orientation, then the department orientation."

And then it's time to go make a difference in people's lives.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com

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