Two years after volunteer programs came to a halt, Marilyn Douglas is charged with bringing the volunteers back to Eagle Ridge Hospital.
“We’re just trying to build back right now,” she explains during a break from a busy morning. “To really get up to full capacity, we probably need an additional 150 volunteers.”
Pre-pandemic, there were about 182 volunteers helping out at the hospital and Eagle Ridge Care Manor. Currently, there are about 120 volunteers split between acute and long-term care.
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Having more volunteers to support nurses and physiotherapists, to visit with patients and just to help people find their way around can make a hospital stay more bearable for a patient, Douglas explains.
“It can be a pretty tough haul when you’re in the hospital and if somebody can lift your spirits, that can make a difference,” Douglas says. “We want to have healthcare volunteers in place so that they can make that experience just a little bit better, more seamless and not confusing and confounding.”
Volunteers can also help lead recreation programs and assist with research projects.
Douglas, who has served as manager of volunteer resources for the past five months, is trying to put more community members in the hospital. She’s also trying to put the hospital back in the community.
“I think we just need more awareness that we’re here, we’re open and we want to engage the community to be part of our healthcare service.”
An infusion of volunteers at the hospital is intended to be a step toward a community-wide approach.
“We haven’t branched into healthcare volunteers in the community yet,” Douglas cautions. “We’re a ways off from that.”
Long-term, Douglas envisions an approach – possibly in two to five years – in which volunteers assist with public health, home health, mental health and substance abuse.
“There’s going to be new opportunities coming for 2023 so we’re just eager for the community to get involved,” she says. “We’re really trying to build out capacity right now so that we can place healthcare volunteers into those core areas.”
While Douglas said they’ll be reaching out to all age groups, the hospital could really use some more seniors and retirees, largely for their lived experience.
“They really can identify with some of the life experiences and things [patients] go through,” Douglas says. “Providing one-to-one visitations with somebody in your own age demographic can be very meaningful and impactful for them.”
To that end, the hospital is also searching for volunteers who can speak to patients in their preferred language, Douglas says.
At the moment, approximately 80 percent of the hospital volunteers are post-secondary students. Having more retirees will provide a consistent level of support, particularly as students need to change their hours to deal with final exams and a shifting school schedule.
There’s both a training program and a screening process for potential volunteers. Those measures are intended to help volunteers and to ensure patients are safe.
“Immunizations are part of being a healthcare volunteer just as it is for healthcare staff,” Douglas says.