For about four hours a day, Jackson volunteers her time as a secretary and receptionist for the chaplain at RMC — scheduling assignments for chaplain visits to patients and for family support groups.
The Oxford resident has consistently volunteered her time since 2003. Her desire to help others in pain was triggered by the loss of her husband to a terminal illness.
“It’s the reward I get from helping others,” Jackson said about her volunteer efforts. “And I don’t see an end to it. I’ll do it as long as I’m able.”
Many of RMC’s volunteers are clearly visible, greeting visitors as they come into hospitals while wearing pink or red jackets.
Others work behind the scenes, providing valuable support to patients, doctors and nurses. They are the legions of men and women who volunteer their work in hospitals every day.
And without them, hospitals would not be the same.
“If every volunteer picked up and walked out — yeah, we’d have a hospital, but it would be a huge, huge miss,” said Vickie Simmons, director of development who also oversees the volunteer programs at RMC. “They provide a huge service that could be a paid job.”
A variety of roles
Simmons said RMC uses three different groups of volunteers. One group, called the auxiliary, provides a variety of support services to patients and hospital staff. Members of the auxiliary also run the hospital gift shop. Another group consists of volunteer chaplains, who provide spiritual support for patients. The third group operates only in the summer and consists of teenagers who assist hospital staff. The auxiliary and chaplain groups mainly consist of elderly and retired people.
RMC typically has about 130 auxiliary volunteers and about 100 chaplains at its disposal. Simmons said that according to the Internal Revenue Service, the auxiliary gives about 25,000 hours of work to RMC each year that equates to $250,000 worth of annual pay for actual employees.
“And they provide a lot of heart and a personal touch,” said Jim Wilson, hospital chaplain at RMC.
The overseer of the volunteer chaplains at RMC, Wilson has seen the chaplain program grow considerably in the 14 years of its existence. He said his group typically makes 40,000 patient visits a year.
“Our primary role is to provide pastoral care to patients, to pray and counsel with them,” he said. “And we run a bunch of support groups.”
Wilson added that his volunteers are internationally certified to respond to the needs of first responders, such as firefighters.
“We respond to the needs of first responders who have overwhelming situations,” he said.
Ordained pastor Nellie Siders of Anniston has been a volunteer chaplain at RMC for the last five years.
“I had a tragic car accident and just had this desire to help people in need and hurting,” Siders said. “It’s amazing to minister to them and see the joy on their faces. I want to continue doing it as long as possible.”
Though smaller than RMC, Jacksonville Medical Center also uses volunteers for a variety of patient and staff needs. Doug Scott, human resources director who oversees the volunteers at Jacksonville Medical, said the hospital typically has 25 volunteers in the program.
“They’re invaluable … basically, they are the face of the organization,” he said.
Scott said many of the volunteers, most of whom are senior citizens, man the greeting station at the hospital entrance.
“They are the first people our patients and visitors see when they come on campus,” he said, “and they greet and escort them through the hospital.”
Scott said the Jacksonville Medical volunteers also deliver newspapers and distribute flowers to patients along with managing the hospital gift shop.
An opportunity to serve
Neil Estes, president of Jacksonville Medical Center group, has been volunteering for five years.
“As you get older, you want to do something productive … and hospitals give you the opportunity to meet a lot of people,” Estes said.
Jamie Weeks, president of the Alabama Society of Directors of Volunteer Services, which is responsible for the administration of volunteer services programs in health care institutions, said volunteers play integral roles in hospitals across the state.
“They add to the quality of a hospital, and they give the paid staff time to do what they need to do,” Weeks said.
Volunteers did just that at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in September — their efforts helping decrease hospital admittance wait times from 30 minutes to 2 minutes, said Robert Downing, assistant chief financial officer for Stringfellow. Downing initiated a statistical program designed to decrease the wait time at the hospital and had the volunteers participate in the process.
“Before, volunteers would sit there and greet patients and maybe escort people to the bathroom,” Downing said. “Now they immediately take a patient’s insurance and driver’s license and scan it immediately so the women in registration will have that information immediately. Then the volunteers stay with the patients to get them to the proper place.”
Currently, Stringfellow is struggling with keeping enough volunteers, said Diane Secor, director of human resources and volunteer services at the hospital. Secor said she has 14 volunteers but would like to have at least 20 available.
“A lot of our volunteers are older folks, and we have a number of them on leave that we don’t think are coming back,” Secor said.
Simmons and Scott at RMC said they are not struggling to find volunteers right now, but could always use more.
“There are many sections of the hospital that aren’t being assisted because we don’t have enough volunteers,” Simmons said.
To volunteer at Stringfellow Memorial call 256-235-8903. To volunteer at RMC, pick up an application at the hospital’s front desk or click volunteer opportunities at rmccares.org. To volunteer at Jacksonville Medical, ask for an application at the front desk.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.