WATERLOO – Hospital volunteers got their moment to shine Friday with a red-carpet welcome at UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital.
Volunteers have not worked at the hospital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago. A couple dozen staff members cheered on about 15 volunteers as they entered the building for re-orientation training Friday morning.
“Our volunteers are here to free the staff to do the things only they can do,” said Sally Sherwood, Allen volunteer services coordinator. “They provide that extra care for our visitors as the staff are caring for the patients.”
Volunteer Mike Miehe took a stroll down the red carpet as he returned to the hospital Friday for training. Miehe began volunteering as Santa Claus about seven years ago after he had cancer surgery at Allen.
“Everybody at the hospital was so kind and caring. After I got done I thought there must be something I can do,” Miehe said.
Now he also volunteers as a patient escort.
“Most of the times we’re the first people they see,” he said. “It’s a great way to give back to the hospital and a way to give back to the community.”
The hospital had about 180 volunteers before the pandemic. Now they are gradually welcoming back about 80 volunteers. Volunteers reviewed rules and guidelines and changes made in the hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic, including handwashing and mask-wearing policies.
Visitation policies also have changed. Each inpatient is allowed two visitors per day, and outpatients are allowed one visitor.
Volunteers can be found serving in various departments throughout the hospital, including COVID-19 call centers, vaccination locations, gift shops and in the surgery waiting room. Many volunteers on the cardiac rehab floor have been through similar incidents or have a heart condition. Volunteers also escort patients and visitors to their rooms and help with discharging.
“We want to make sure all of our patients and visitors feel comfortable and know where they’re going,” said Susan Devine, manager of support services. “They make everyone feel warm and welcome and comfortable.”
The volunteers also benefit.
“It’s proven that people who volunteer live longer and live a longer, more meaningful life,” Sherwood said. “These guys are proof of that, because they’re happy, positive people that just have a heart of service.”
Staff have said patients have been asking about their favorite volunteers throughout the pandemic.
“They do a great job of building those relationships with our patients that come in frequently,” Sherwood said.
All returning volunteers have been vaccinated and will be following the same safety protocols as hospital staff.
“We can’t say enough how much that the volunteers are the heart of our hospital. They show that care and kindness all the time, and that makes this a great place,” Devine said.
At MercyOne, hospital volunteers also are returning to their duties.
“We’re so happy we can now welcome these individuals back to our hospitals,” said Kim Rottinghaus, manager of volunteer services in Northeast Iowa. “In the spirit of National Volunteer Week, we want to say, ‘Thank you’ to these individuals, and also welcome new volunteers to MercyOne.”
Volunteer opportunities vary at each hospital and include greeting and escorting patients and visitors at entrances, driving patients to and from appointments, being a mail/medical runner, and assisting with projects and clerical duties. At this time, patient interaction remains limited due to COVID-19.
“We enjoy meeting people who can offer their unique talents to help carry out our mission every day in the communities we serve,” said Rottinghaus. “Whether you’re a high school or college student, have recently retired or just looking to help the community, we have something for you.”