For Volunteers, Rewards Come in Helping Patients –And Getting Smiles Back
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — How would you like the most important task in your job to be providing that special touch that makes patients feel comfortable when they visit the doctor? To welcome them, smile at them, perhaps engage them in conversation, help with a wheelchair, give directions or arrange for a taxi?
Those are some of the high touch tasks performed by almost 150 volunteers who spend time at Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) offices in Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, San Carlos and Sunnyvale. National Volunteer Week, observed April 7-13 this year, is a good time to highlight the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to brighten a patient’s day, share their compassion and help build stronger communities.
Donald Holthaus and Noreen Ryker, two longtime volunteers, say it’s one of the best jobs in the world.
“I am so very happy that I am a volunteer,’’ said Holthaus, a retired engineer who has helped out at PAMF’s Sunnyvale Center since 2012. “I meet a lot of wonderful people here – -they are just like old friends.”
Noreen Ryker, who retired from banking, has been a volunteer at the Mountain View Center for twelve years.
“If patients want to talk, then you talk a bit,” Ryker said of her role at the front desk. “If they don’t, you smile and sometimes they look downcast, but then they smile back. It makes it all worthwhile.’’
Ryker, Holthaus and members of their families are patients at PAMF, and they say volunteering is one way they show their appreciation for the skilled care they have received over the years.
“For the most part, the volunteers are the first face a patients sees,’’ said Adrineh Poulatian, PAMF’s director of patient experience. “They set the tone and bring that positivity and passion and empathy – that is part of their DNA.’’
In addition to welcoming patients, volunteers serve on the Patient Advisory Council, which is made up of patient advisors who review information, communication materials and participate in improvement work for clinical programs to make sure a patient’s perspective is represented.
Students volunteer during the summer, usually helping at the Urgent Care Centers in Los Gatos and Mountain View.
Several volunteers bring dogs to visit with patients at the Cancer Center in Sunnyvale, arranged through a partnership with the Peninsula Humane Society.
“Our volunteers are a wonderful resource,” said David Quincy, M.D., Area CEO, Sutter Bay Medical Foundation, South Bay. “Our patients are always telling us they appreciate help from volunteers, and that they make a difference in a patient’s visit. The volunteers add even more to our patient-centered approach.”
Poulatian, Kelly Robutz and Anamarie Rodriguez, coordinators for the volunteer program, said they are impressed by how committed the volunteers are to making sure the patient has a good experience.
Some of the volunteers have retired from a career working for PAMF. And some of the students who have volunteered at PAMF have gone on to study medicine and pursue careers as physicians.
Last year, volunteers clocked 23,000 hours working at PAMF clinics.
Volunteers often go above and beyond their commitment. Holthaus volunteers two days a week starting at 8 a.m. But he often gets to the Sunnyvale Center earlier so he can help patients who are going to the lab that opens at 7 a.m.
And then there are “Madeleine Mornings” – the times when he brings madeleine cookies to the receptionists.
And there are more sobering times. Holthaus recalled a woman who came out of a doctor’s office crying due to a difficult diagnosis for a family member.
“All you can do is give them a hug,” he said, adding that the woman calmed down.
“It can be hard, but I love it,’’ he said of his experiences as a volunteer.
For more information about volunteering at Sutter Health, please visit Volunteering at Sutter Health.