Though they aren’t called Pink Ladies and Candy Stripers anymore, the adult and teen volunteers at Health Central Hospital are just as important now as they always have been. No longer do they have to don pink jackets or red-and-white striped pinafores to perform their duties as volunteers through the Health Central Hospital Auxiliary.
The color of their jacket indicates in which department they are working in today’s hospital.
The auxiliary is an independent group of workers within the hospital, and members offer their time, expertise and service for patient care at no cost to the hospital or community. There are more than 200 volunteers, from teenagers to senior citizens.
In the last 12 months, 495 volunteers logged 57,217 hours. That is the equivalent of nearly 30 full-time employees, said Pauline Wolfe, volunteer manager/guest services.
The volunteer center is busy at 4 p.m., as the older volunteers are clocking out and the teenagers are just arriving for their three-hour shift.
Each volunteer has a different reason for wanting to donate time to the hospital, but they all are there for one reason — to assist the medical staff and make the patients’ hospital stay as productive and pleasant as possible.
Pat Harper has been a Health Central Hospital volunteer for seven years. She is one of the veterans, working alongside new volunteers Shirell Smith, who recently started the position, and Kenry Severe, a student at Olympia High School.
Smith has been job-shadowing Harper for a few weeks, learning all the ins and outs of the volunteer position. Essentially, the two greet people as they walk in the door, help them locate a doctor’s office or a patient’s room, assist those who need wheelchairs and answer the phone.
“And always keep a smile on your face,” Smith said.
“We just make people feel welcome,” Harper said.
Severe works in another part of the hospital.
“Basically, I’m the nurse’s sidekick,” he said. “I assist the patients, give out food to the patients, organize files and give certain items to the nurses.”
Harper added, “Whatever comes up, we do it.”
The reasons people volunteer at the hospital vary.
Smith returned to the hospital to work following a stay there.
“They had really made me feel so comfortable, and I said, ‘Wow, this is a place I would really like to give back to the community and work here,’” she said. “The ER nurses and the doctors and the patient advocate, everybody, they were just so wonderful.”
Harper has lived in the West Orange County area for probably 50 years, she said, and she watched the hospital being built.
“I knew a lot of the doctors when they first came here,” she said. “I know a lot of the patients who come here, and it’s like home. I enjoy working with people.”
Severe was born at Health Central, and his mother has worked there for 20 years, so the place is like home to him, as well.
Smith knows what it’s like to be a patient and not feeling well, and she hopes her smile brings a smile to their faces. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them, she said, so she does that, too.
Harper, who worked for Orange County Public Schools for decades, said the West Orange community means a great deal to her and she loves people and loves helping people. Even when she worked full time, she always made time for volunteering. She has put in many hours at the Edgewood Children’s Ranch and the Ronald McDonald House, too.
High school students are required to donate 100 hours of community service before graduation, so Severe is at the hospital once a week for three hours. He would love to put in more volunteer hours, he said, so he will likely stay on even after reaching the 100-hour mark.
He has enjoyed meeting new people and the communication with the nurses.
All three like knowing they are helping make the visit more comfortable for the patients.
Harper wears a red ribbon that shows her dedication to the hospital. On it are three pins she received for just a portion of the hours she has logged: 100, 500, 1,000.
“I go home feeling very good,” Harper said. “It’s a wonderful hospital. It really is.”