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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

From candy stripers to guiding a band jam, hospital volunteers break new ground

Joy Daughtery Dickinson is executive editor of the Hospital Group of publications at AHC Media in Atlanta and long-time editor and writer of Same-Day Surgery. She has won nine national awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association and the Association of Business Information & Media Companies for her blogging, news writing, and editing. She makes her home in southwest Georgia.

Hospital volunteer programs have expanded significantly since the candy striper days. Today’s volunteers might be leading a band composed of mentally ill veterans, holding a dog walk to raise money, helping grieving teens cope with their emotions, or providing free counseling on the Medicare system. (Wait a minute. Someone volunteers to wade through that bureaucracy?!)

All of these types of programs recently were recognized by the American Hospital Association (AHA) with its Hospital Awards for Volunteer Excellence. Here are some details:

• Victory Band at Detroit Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. At the hospital’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center, volunteers work with the James-For-Vets Project for military veterans to offer music-centered programs. The music helps the veterans to cope with their emotions and symptoms. The volunteers and therapists have taken a group of military veterans with various levels of musical talent and helped them work as a team, improve social skills, and improve leadership skills. The band plays pop songs once a month in the facility’s main atrium for waiting patients and also has performed in the community. Their loved ones are proud, and the concert “has served as a catalyst to break down the stigma often associated with mental illness,” the AHA says. “As members of the band, the veterans are no longer defined by their mental illness, but rather view themselves and are viewed by others as a group of talented musicians.”

• Tails on the Trails Walk-A-Thon at Tri-City Medical Center, Oceanside, CA. The walk-a-thon gives dog owners a chance to spend a fun day walking with their pets in the park. The events includes live music, demonstrations, exhibits, food, and drawings for donated prizes. Four hundred people and 250 dogs participated. In addition to being a community outreach project, the walk-a-thon raised $7,000 for the hospital’s pediatric outpatient rehabilitation unit and pet therapy department and the Special Care Foundation for Companion Animals for Cancer Research.

• Fairview’s Youth Grief Services at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis. This outreach program targets youth and families struggling to cope with the death of someone that they loved. In the last 15 years, the program has reach more than 3,000 people. The program includes direct services, such as support groups, as well as email support, telephone support, a summer camp, and community education. The program provides presentations to schools and other community organizations. The senior chaplain at one of the Fairview hospitals serves as the executive director.

• Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Volunteers in SHIIP provide free counseling to Medicare patients and their caregivers about the Medicare program. They cover the gamut from the plan itself to prescription drug plans, billing and claims, fraud and abuse, and long-term care insurance. The volunteers are “highly trained” to help the patients make decisions, compare plans, enroll in Medicare programs, and understand their bills. The program is a collaboration that includes local nursing home and assisted living community, the state, and CMS. In addition to staff, the program has 14 volunteer counselors and four office support volunteers. Counselors initially have an intensive six-day training.

These programs wouldn’t be possible without volunteers. How can you harness the time, energy, and talents of your volunteers to benefit your facility and community? (Editor’s note: Photo is courtesy of Get breaking news that impacts your facility. Follow us on Twitter @HospitalReport.)