published Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Making time for others: Volunteers are crucial part of hospital staffs in Chattanooga

Volunteer Amelia Sullivan cares for a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Erlanger hospital.
Volunteer Amelia Sullivan cares for a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Erlanger hospital.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
  • photo
    Carol McCamish has logged about 3,000 hours as a volunteer at Memorial Hospital.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Volunteering Among Demographic Groups

In 2012:

• Women volunteered at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.

• By age, 35- to 44-year-olds were most likely to volunteer (31.6 percent); 20- to 24-year-olds least likely to volunteer (18.9 percent).

• Teens (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 27.4 percent.

• For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapers off as age increases.

• Among the major race and ethnicity groups, whites volunteered at a higher rate (27.8 percent) than blacks (21.1 percent), Asians (19.6 percent) and Hispanics (15.2 percent).

• Married persons volunteered at a higher rate (31.9 percent) in 2012 than did those who had never married (20.7 percent) and those with other marital statuses (21.3 percent).

• The volunteer rate of parents with children under age 18 (33.5 percent) remained higher than for persons without children (23.8 percent).

• Individuals with higher levels of education engaged in volunteer activities at higher rates than did those with less education. Among persons age 25 and over, 42.2 percent of college graduates volunteered, compared with 17.3 percent of high school graduates and 8.8 percent of those with less than a high school diploma.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Volunteering Among Demographic Groups

In 2012:

• Women volunteered at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.

• By age, 35- to 44-year-olds were most likely to volunteer (31.6 percent); 20- to 24-year-olds least likely to volunteer (18.9 percent).

• Teens (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 27.4 percent.

• For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapers off as age increases.

• Among the major race and ethnicity groups, whites volunteered at a higher rate (27.8 percent) than blacks (21.1 percent), Asians (19.6 percent) and Hispanics (15.2 percent).

• Married persons volunteered at a higher rate (31.9 percent) in 2012 than did those who had never married (20.7 percent) and those with other marital statuses (21.3 percent).

• The volunteer rate of parents with children under age 18 (33.5 percent) remained higher than for persons without children (23.8 percent).

• Individuals with higher levels of education engaged in volunteer activities at higher rates than did those with less education. Among persons age 25 and over, 42.2 percent of college graduates volunteered, compared with 17.3 percent of high school graduates and 8.8 percent of those with less than a high school diploma.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic

Amelia Sullivan of Chattanooga has earned the title “lead cuddler.”

One of Erlanger hospital’s most prized volunteers, the 70-year-old Sullivan has earned the distinction by soothing babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A retired registered nurse and business owner, she has volunteered at Erlanger for the last 16 years.

“I look forward to Thursdays when I can comfort a baby, help a nurse with patient care, encourage a parent, or contribute to some need in NICU,” she says. “We learn to feed babies who nipple well, give baths, change diapers, take temperatures, swaddle and comfort, run errands and whatever else that needs to be done.”

Since the War of 1812, Tennessee has been called the “Volunteer State,” earning the nickname because volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, serving under Gen. Andrew Jackson, were noted for their valor during the Battle of New Orleans, a key U.S. victory.

The spirit of the Tennessee soldiers continues to this day. Whether it’s to help victims of disasters, offer assistance at events such as Riverbend or bring food and companionship to shut-ins, volunteers spread themselves across the city and the state.

Local hospitals are among the biggest beneficiaries of volunteers. “Candy Stripers,” a name that comes from the familiar red-and-white outfits that young female volunteers traditionally wore, are the most famous in the world of hospital volunteers, but many others spend time helping out in other ways.

“We rely on volunteers to support many of our programs and services,” says Ann Marie Brewer, director of community relations at SkyRidge Medical Center in Cleveland, Tenn. “Don’t just think about volunteering, take the first step and do it.”

Most local hospitals use volunteers, and officials from those facilities echo Brewer’s comments, saying those who donate their time are essential to operations. Hospital budgets would be overtaxed trying to make up for the free work done by volunteers, they say. Volunteers are so important to hospitals, most have a person solely dedicated to managing them.

Brewer says volunteering is good for one’s self-esteem and can bring “great joy.”

“You’ll meet all sorts of people, build valuable skills and have access to discounts and free educational programs.”

To get the volunteer spirit cranked up early, Erlanger even offers a program for teenagers, says Emilia Pastina Jones, volunteer services manager.

“They are now called VolunTEENS,” Jones says. “These hard-working girls and boys are 16- to 18-years-old and volunteer in June and July only. Last summer, we had 150 dedicated VolunTEENS.”

At Memorial Hospital Care System, Carol McCamish, who is nearing 3,000 hours of volunteering over the last decade, calls the work a “fountain of youth.”

“I plan on volunteering as long as I am able-bodied,” the 66-year-old McCamish says.

She says volunteering has many rewards, including when families ask her to pray with them. But there also are moments of humor, including an incident that happened while she was tidying up the emergency department area.

“A teenager asked me if I cleaned the whole hospital,” McCamish says. “She was so cute and thought more of my ability than possible.”

A former flight attendant, McCamish says that, after the birth of her children, she became a homemaker and community volunteer. At Memorial, she started off in the gift shop, but now works in the emergency department.

“She found her passion there,” says Jean Payne, volunteer services director at Memorial. “She is always making sure the patients and their loved ones who come to the emergency department are greeted with compassion and a warm welcome. She assists with registration and makes rounds to be certain needs are being met and that they are comfortable.”

McCamish also collaborates with the treatment staff to help families in the emergency department waiting room, explaining the triage system used in emergency care, Payne explains.

“She helps in keeping the emergency department waiting area neat and organized and provides directions and escorts guests and patients within the hospital. She is a fantastic support to the staff and they appreciate her dedication and wonderful service. She demonstrates our values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence in all that she does,” says Payne, who oversees more than 500 volunteers at Memorial with ages range from 16 to 93.

At SkyRidge, Linda Humphreys has volunteered since 1993. Her duties range from working in the gift shop to the registration desk to making baby bonnets for newborns.

“I enjoy helping and meeting people,” says Humphreys, 79. “It is especially enjoyable to make the bonnets and then see how happy it makes the families when we deliver them.”

To date, Humphreys has donated more than 7,200 hours to volunteering and says, “I’ll volunteer as long as I am able.”

Erlanger’s Sullivan has been volunteering for years and doesn’t limit it to the hospital.

“I have volunteered at church in several capacities with children, youth and adults,” Sullivan says. “I volunteered at my children’s schools both in the classroom and PTA and sports. I help work golf tournaments for Volunteers in Medicine and Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home.”

She also finds time to volunteer every week at the HaCoBACare Ministry in St. Elmo.

But it’s cuddling the babies at Erlanger that has her coming back week after week, year after year.

“I chose to volunteer at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital because I heard about the cuddler program,” which she does for about four hours each week, she says.

“There are many other volunteers who have been here twice as long as I have and have worked tirelessly for this hospital,” Sullivan says. “We all have a passion for different areas of this hospital. All of what I do here is very rewarding.”

There’s one particular incident, though, that reminds her of the importance of volunteers. The owner of a successful local business toured the NICU, thinking about joining the cuddling program.

“But after I explained what we did and the commitment involved, she decided she did not have the time,” Sullivan says. “She instead made a generous donation to T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital to be used for equipment in NICU because she was impressed with the commitment of the volunteers.”

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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