Tapping into the Volunteer Spirit

By Carrie Vaughan for HealthLeaders News , September 12, 2007
Grove City (PA) Medical Center has a longstanding volunteer organization with about 200 members. About half of those members volunteer on a regular basis--a testament to the community's loyalty to the hospital, says JoAnne K. Clobus, executive director, marketing and public relations. "They are a big part of helping us deliver patient care here. They do escorting of patients, and we have them working in our ambulatory surgery area. They volunteer in community relations, help us operate our lifeline system, and work in our front desk and gift shop."

Recently, however, the 95-licensed-bed hospital tapped the services of a different type of volunteer. This past April, with the help of 10 college co-eds, the hospital's emergency department waiting area received a much needed face lift. The waiting area serves nearly 15,000 people annually and gets a lot of wear and tear due to the hospital's location at the main intersection of two major highways in northwestern Pennsylvania. "We see an awful lot of traffic in the ED as a result of motor vehicle accidents," says Clobus.

Robert C. Jackson, Jr., Grove City's chief executive officer, says one of the most important elements of this renovation project--aside from a substantially improved waiting area--was that it attracted a different kind of volunteer. "Not every volunteer can make a commitment to being here every Tuesday to escort patients," he says. "This project, in particular, was very successful because it was a finite period of time that allowed people to do a project in which they were able to see tangible results of their hard work."

'Design on a dime'
The project evolved from two telephone calls that Clobus received during the summer in 2006. The first was from Sherry Latshaw, the hospital's clinical coordinator of the emergency department, who was looking for ways to spruce up the waiting area. Clobus says that a few days later, Kimmy Ross, the president of the Crown and Scepter honorary at Grove City College, called inquiring about a community service project. "I put those two things together--the need with the resources--and we went from there," she says.

Ross proposed three different design options for the waiting area, and the hospital's administrative staff and key employees decided that elements from all three proposals would work best for the space. Key considerations were the type of surface finishes, paint and textiles due to hospital regulatory requirements. The project took about six months to plan, and the toughest challenge was coordinating everyone's schedules, Clobus says. "We had to coordinate the schedules of the ED physicians and the staff. We had to relocate visitors during the time it was being revamped. We had to coordinate the girls’ schedules and try to keep the room under construction for the least amount of time possible."

The redesigned room features a soft green wall color, new upholstery, tables, lamps and a child's oak table and chairs crafted by a local Amish carpenter. But the addition of 14 black and white photographs of the local landscape may be the favorite addition among visitors. "The entire room is beautiful, but everyone who visits is taken by the photographs," says Clobus.

A new frontier
Cultivating relationships with other service organizations is new territory for the hospital, says Jackson. Aside from Grove City College, Slippery Rock University, which has an enrollment of 8,000, is about seven miles from the hospital. "We have begun to cultivate ways in which we can tap into the student service organizations to offer them these types of projects. But we are really in the infancy of how to tap that type of resource," Jackson says.

Traditionally, hospital volunteer organizations are composed of retired members of the community who now have time to give back. But people of all ages can volunteer, Jackson says, adding that the volunteering process is a tremendous opportunity for community hospitals. "Working with the volunteers is no different than any other service line in the institution. You have to constantly rethink the traditional ways of doing things."

Carrie Vaughan is editor of HealthLeaders Media Community and Rural Hospital Weekly. She can be reached at cvaughan@healthleadersmedia.com




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