Tucson Woman Advises Hospitals on Recruiting, Retaining Volunteers

A veteran Tucson Medical Center volunteer has obtained one of the nation’s highest hospital volunteer positions.

For the duration of this calendar year, Shirley Gould will serve as the chairperson of the American Hospital Association’s Committee of Volunteers, which advises its parent organization on programs and services related to the world of volunteers.

Gould, a former teacher and medical office assistant who estimates she has served 11,000 hours as a hospital volunteer since 1991, sat down for a question-and-answer session about what she’s seeing from hospitals in general at a national level.

  • So this is quite an honor. How did you start volunteering with hospitals?

I had a neighbor down the street who worked in breast screening on Friday afternoons and every summer she’d go back to Wisconsin. She asked if I’d fill in for the four months she was gone and I said no, I wasn’t interested, because I’d just gotten off the board of my homeowners’ association.  Well, she was very high pressure. I said I’d do it for four months. That was in 1991. My kids keep saying, ‘Mother, when are you going to retire?’ since I’m going to be 77 this year. But I like helping people. I think when I give, the return is always greater. I’m truly honored, as the first person from Arizona to serve on this committee, to hold this position.

  • What are your priorities in your new role?

There are two things I’m really gung-ho about: Community outreach and grassroots activism. Today, more than ever, hospitals and volunteers need to go out into the community. For example, they could work in coordination with the schools, to provide information about obesity, smoking, drinking, whatever. Hospitals don’t have a lot of money today, but I do think a team from the hospital administration could work with the volunteers to identify the great needs in the community. There are things that could be done for homeless children and teens, women in crisis, the food bank, to name a few. 

I think volunteers also can reach out through their communities, asking individuals for their support in advocating to their political representatives for no more funding cuts to hospitals.  The cuts are scary. They’re like a snowball rolling on and on. A lot of people in the community may not realize the impact of what’s happening in the hospitals now.

  • What are the challenges you’re seeing now that are affecting the ability of hospitals to have a robust volunteer effort?

The environment is changing. It used to be that schools, libraries and hospitals were really the main focus if you wanted to volunteer. But now there are literally hundreds of options. Aside from that, the structured volunteers are an aging population. Today, people who come in to do volunteer work, they don’t want a structured program, but they want to volunteer when it’s convenient for them. And that’s great. But it’s hard in some areas where you need to depend on them being there. The idea is to meet the needs for all volunteers in the hospital environment today.

  • What are some creative uses for volunteers that you’ve seen?

One idea, and this hospital received an award for it, was to do pretty intensive, six-month training to address the long wait time in the Emergency Room. Volunteers were trained to sit with the families or patients in the waiting room and even check on them in the back when they were waiting to be treated, to act as their advocate. Let me tell you, that hospital raised their patient satisfaction rates from the people who came into the E.R.

There was a hospital in Michigan that had a number of people dying alone in the hospital. They talked to the volunteers and, with extensive training, trained them to sit by their bed-side, because the two things the patients were worried about were fear of dying and fear of pain. It really helped the patients and it was so simple. These programs do not have to be complex to be effective.

Another project: A hospital wanted to raise some money for some equipment for its neurological department, so they came up with Text for Ten. On a Saturday morning, at a particular time, their volunteers would text 10 people asking for a $10 donation for the cause, and then those people were asked to ask others. They raised $70,000 in less than an hour. The other thing I liked about it: There were a lot of teens involved because they like to text. It’s important to get the idea planted early that they can volunteer.

  • This seems like a question with an obvious answer, but why are volunteers so key?

People who come to the hospital are either in distress or they’re visiting someone who is in distress. They aren’t there to have a good time, and usually, a volunteer is the first person someone sees when they come into a hospital. I think that can set the tone, if they see someone who is smiling and asking how they can help.

  • What is the No. 1 mistake you see hospitals make when it comes to recruiting and retaining volunteers?

In a lot of hospitals, volunteers have very limited opportunities. They work the gift shop or at a desk or take the magazine cart around. At Cedars-Sinai in L.A., they have 66 different areas volunteers can work in. Volunteers can be utilized more than ever, particularly to help compensate for budget cuts. But it takes a staff willing to want volunteers to work with them.

  • How can hospitals do a better job of retention?

Anytime a new volunteer comes in, there are a couple of days, even if they feel very qualified, where they’re a little uncertain because they’re in a new environment. My suggestion would be to have a mentor – someone who has been around for a while and can touch base with them, or meet for coffee periodically.  It’s important to give them support, because you don’t want them to quit. The one thing you don’t want to do is lose a volunteer. The No. 1 thing they can do is make sure the volunteers feel appreciated.

  • Was there a moment when you thought, yes, this is all worth it?

 There was a staff person at TMC who came in for a mammogram. There was something wrong, so she had to come back for additional views. I took her back to get her ready and she just broke down. She started to cry, so I just gave her a hug. To this day, whenever she sees me, she thanks me for that hug and the support I gave her, and this happened 15 years ago.

Comments

  1. Shirley, thank you for the informative article.

  2. Glenna Smith - TMC Auxilian says:

    Thanks Shirley for being such a wonderful representative for Tucson, Tucson Medical Center and the Tucson Medical Center Auxiliary! We appreciate you!

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