The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 13, 2013

A healthy habit

Volunteers providing valuable service at the hospitals in Enid

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Each year in Enid volunteers — mostly retired seniors — donate more than 50,000 hours, adding up to more than 24 full-time employees, of their time at local hospitals.

The volunteers do everything from greet at the front door to working in the emergency room, and they all share one passion: to stay active and give back to the community.

“I’ve always been active, doing something, and I can’t just sit at home and twiddle my thumbs,” said Ruth Dobbs, who has been volunteering at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center since 2006. “There’s such a need for volunteers, and I look at all the things going on here at the hospital and all the work the volunteers do ... it’s just a good community service.”

Dobbs said there’s something for everyone at the hospital, whether you want to volunteer in the gift shop or if you’re looking for experience in a clinical environment in anticipation of pursuing a career in medicine.

She said the volunteers learn quickly to adapt to wherever they’re needed.

“All of us just have the mentality that we can learn and do whatever needs to be done for the hospital,” Dobbs said.

Not all of the volunteers at the hospital are retirees. Each summer youth volunteers, age 14 and older, sign up to volunteer. Many of them are hoping to pursue a career in the medical field.

Besides giving the students practical experience, Dobbs said the youth volunteer program is a good way to teach community service and other values.

“When you get to kids while they’re still young, they too can learn the ways they can give back to the community,” Dobbs said.

Regardless of age, Dobbs said volunteering at the hospital has only one prerequisite: “Just be willing to do and give of your time.”

Jana Bean, St. Mary’s manager of volunteer services, said more than 100 volunteers actively give of their time at the hospital.

Volunteers donated more than 29,000 hours at St. Mary’s last year, including adult volunteers, junior volunteers and hours served by therapy dogs.

“It’s amazing,” Bean said. “It averages out to more than 15 full-time employees.”

She said the volunteers help conserve resources for the hospital that can then be put into staff training and patient service.

While volunteer hours have remained strong, Bean said recruiting new volunteers has become increasingly difficult in recent years.

She said many people think they need to have specialized skills to volunteer in the hospital, but volunteers will receive any training they need “on the job.”

“Anyone who wants to volunteer has the ability to work pretty much anywhere in the hospital,” Bean said. “There is something for everyone here.”

“The volunteer program is an awesome way for people to get out,” Bean said. “It’s an outlet for retired people to get out and be around people their own age and to have some camaraderie and fellowship.”

Eva Chambers said that sense of fellowship was what drew her to volunteer at Integris Bass Baptist Health Center more than 12 years ago.

“I needed something to do,” Chambers said with a laugh. “It serves a need for me to get out and be around people. It’s a good thing to get out and into public life a few hours a week.”

Chambers has worked in a variety of locations in the hospital, including the gift shop, in the surgery waiting area, on the hospital auxiliary board and by keeping personnel records for the more-than 130 active hospital volunteers.

Carolyn Holden, director of volunteer services at Integris Bass, said volunteers like Chambers are essential to the hospital’s operations.

She said volunteers last year donated more than 21,000 volunteer hours, in positions that would otherwise have cost the hospital more than $450,000 in wages.

“They add almost a half-million dollars in value to the hospital,” Holden said. “Their contributions, when you put them all together, add up to a lot.”

Chambers said the volunteer service benefits not just the hospital. She said it’s good for the volunteers as well.

“Hopefully it helps the hospital a little,” Chambers said, “but it does help me, too.”