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Volunteers make hospital experience more pleasant

April 19, 2014
By MaryAnn Kromer - Staff Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

At Mercy Tiffin Hospital, Bernie Steinmetz and Laurie Kaple oversee about 140 volunteers through the Mercy Foundation.

The pair interview and train newcomers, compile a schedule and put out a volunteer newsletter. Each quarter, a volunteer forum with an in-house speaker is offered, and a volunteer of the quarter is chosen from nominations submitted by other volunteers.

"Moreso than ever, they play a really important role in what goes on here, because they cover so many different areas," Steinmetz said. "Most of the time, they're the first person somebody sees as the initial contact, especially at the information desk, escorting, the valet and ambulatory surgery."

Article Photos

Retiree Harold Steinmetz, 88, continues to volunteer at the main entrance and at the valet parking entrance.

People at the front doors are called "Mercy Ambassadors." Steinmetz said the ambassador greets everyone and assists the volunteer on duty at the valet entrance in the Mercy Office Building. Harold Steinmetz, Bernie's dad, usually can be found at the door of the MOB. Harold, 88, contributed more than 800 hours of service last year. In addition to directing visitors, he sanitizes the wheelchair after each use, cleans fingerprints off the windows and picks up litter.

Other areas where volunteers have a significant impact include the gift shop, fundraising, recycling, mailroom and purchasing. A handful of volunteers sort through documents to remove what is outdated. Other volunteers operate a shredder, usually in pairs, to recycle old files and cardboard from deliveries. Steinmetz said the shredders and balers tend to be mechanically inclined.

"The guys really like that. They get to work with the machine. They shred cardboard and paper and bale it. It's all recycled. We do it five days a week," Steinmetz said. "You walk into that room sometimes and it's stacked to the ceiling, especially on Mondays."

Distributing the Eucharist to patients and employees is a task handled by volunteers every day.

The hospital's periodic health screening events attract 300 people or more, so Steinmetz said four volunteers are scheduled to help register people. Volunteers, including students from Heidelberg and Tiffin universities, can choose to work on the in-patient nursing floor or Monitored Medical Surgical Unit.

"Some of them are going into medical programs to be doctors or nurses, so it's the perfect place for them to volunteer," Steinmetz said. "I think more and more, employers are looking for well-rounded people who have spent time volunteering. ... When you graduate, there's a lot of competition for jobs and you need all the help you can get."

Tiffany Bragg, a student studying forensic psychology at Tiffin University, started volunteering in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation in September. Steinmetz said she is the first person to volunteer in that department. She is stationed at the reception window 33 hours a week to greet clients, answer the phone and check appointment times.

"I love it," Bragg said. "I take the files when they get here and have them sign the consent forms. Then I get them ready to go back to the room."

When they are not guiding visitors, escorts deliver flowers and newspapers to patients. Elaine Kern is an escort four hours a week. During her 17 years as a volunteer, she also has worked at the information desk. She said the move to the new hospital building was especially challenging. She was accustomed to using a pager, but the departments all had new numbers to learn.

"It was scary at first because I thought I'd never find my way around. I know pretty much every nook and cranny, now," Kern said.

A retired teacher from Mohawk Elementary, Kern also volunteers at Old Mission Church in Upper Sandusky. The day of this interview, she had escorted a former co-worker through the hospital halls. She said she has made two or three "very good friends" through volunteering, which also keeps her in shape.

"On a busy day, we can walk five miles or more," Kern said.

Steinmetz said he is looking for a volunteer to help in food service each day during the busiest hours. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. They must fill out an application and do an interview "to make sure they're a good fit" and find out where they would like to volunteer, Steinmetz said. Applicants get a tour of the building with orientation and a volunteer manual. Each station also has a manual. The Joint Commission requires annual testing for volunteers, and everyone does a self-evaluation each year.

"It's very similar to what employees have to do, because we have to do background checks. We have to get medical forms signed," Steinmetz said.

When the paperwork is completed, the volunteer is paired up with an existing volunteer familiar with the job in that area.

Steinmetz said training for escorts and the information desk usually take more time than other spots because those volunteers must know the layout of the hospital. They also must have good communication skills and be able to interact with all kinds of people.

And every volunteer must be aware of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.

"We talk strongly about them, because, depending on what area they're in, they see private information. That's another very important aspect of what they do," Steinmetz said. "We have a great group of people. They're here for the right reasons, because they want to help people."

Steinmetz recalled a woman who said she volunteers to repay what has been done for her. The retired volunteers tend to enjoy working with energetic and enthusiastic college students. Steinmetz said students often fill in at times when others are not available.

"Like anything else, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes we'll get a whole lot of people who want to volunteer," Steinmetz said. "We're down a little bit right now because over the last two or three months, we've had several who either retired or have gotten a job someplace."

Some leave in the winter and return in the summer, while students may go home for the summer and volunteer during the school year. Coordinators must be flexible in scheduling the people who are available at any given time. Many hospital volunteers have part-time jobs or give time to multiple organizations. A few are on a standby list to fill in when another person can't be there. Most of the volunteer shifts are three to four hours.

"Some people volunteer once a month, some once a week and some are here about every day. One of our volunteers last year volunteered 1,127 hours," Steinmetz said. "If we do have some kind of disaster, we do utilize our volunteers if need be. We try to handle it, but there are cases where there's a fire or whatever, the firemen may come in the front door. The information desk people and Mercy Ambassadors may be asked to help, depending what it is. Sometimes, it's all hands on deck," Steinmetz said.

The volunteers of the four quarters in 2013 were Nikki Twarek, Jeannie Ludwig, Ellie Boes and Cindy Moyer. Ludwig received the award for 2013 Volunteer of the Year. In addition to a Christmas celebration, volunteers are treated to an annual banquet. This year, it was Feb. 26. In addition to dinner, Mercy Tiffin CEO Lynn Detterman was the speaker. Entertainment also was included.

"It's our way of thanking the volunteers, and they really enjoyed it," Steinmetz said.



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