Former employees return to hospital as volunteers

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Vilma Sharp may have retired as a nurse 22 years ago, but she still visits St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto weekly. That’s because after she retired in 1989 following 26 years of employment as a nurse at the Health Centre, she signed up as a volunteer.  “St. Joseph’s has always been close to my heart. I made so many good friends,” she says.

“I was impressed with the level of care especially in Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) long term care hospital,” says Vilma. “It was the closeness with the patients and their relatives with doctors down to the housekeeping staff. We all worked together – it was like a family.” She adds, “We still talk about the good times we had even though it was chronic care. We loved the patients and hoped they loved us too.”

Vilma worked as a registered nurse in the old OLM building that was demolished to make way for the new OLM Patient Care Wing that will open in the new year. Now a senior, Vilma does one morning volunteer shift a week in the day surgery unit of the main hospital building. She assists with discharging patients and gets their belongings together for them and helps put patients first by making them as comfortable as possible.
“The day surgery staff is A plus and is one of the reasons I still volunteer at St. Joe’s,” she says.

It is a great compliment to any hospital when staff decide to volunteer with the organization they worked for. At the Health Centre, 14 per cent of volunteers are former staff members.

Former nurse Diana Mak started at the Health Centre’s maternity ward in 1965 just three months after she arrived in Canada from England. She was employed at our hospital for a year before moving to Ottawa where she worked as a nurse for over 30 years, but when she returned to Toronto in 1998 she began volunteering at the Health Centre. Diana volunteers in the chemotherapy clinic helping to make patients’ stays in hospital more enjoyable by treating them with respect, dignity and compassion. And the patients seem to appreciate the support of volunteers.

“Every Christmas we have so much chocolate (from patients) that I send them to other departments,” says Diana. “We have so much love from patients.” Another tie that binds Diana to the hospital is that her first born Susanna was born at the Health Centre in 1969 and after she graduated from medical school Susanna did her internship at the hospital. Diana says, her daughter was chosen as intern of the year in the early 1990s.

Mrytle Chapman is a former employee who has given combined work and volunteer service of almost 40 years. She worked at the Health Centre from 1973 to 1994 in the printing department and retired early at age 64. “I was so happy at St. Joseph’s and made so many friends. I wanted to give back something to the hospital,” she says.

So just a few months after retirement, she started volunteering in the fall of 1994 first in our records department and now in the gift shop one morning a week. “I get a very happy morning meeting the public as well as staff members,” says Mrytle. “I love it when a young father comes in looking for a gift for his wife and new baby; or delivering flowers to patients is a good experience as well. The elderly (patients) are always happy to have a little chat.”

There are currently 225 volunteers and 75 per cent of them are female with men making up the remaining quarter. The youngest volunteer is 16 and eldest is 95. The majority of volunteers (57 percent) are 50 years of age or older.

“Some of our volunteers are university students who are interested in a health care career,” says Maureen Ford, Manager of Volunteer Services. “We have a good balance of long-term volunteers who have been here for decades and those who move on after a year of service.”

“Each year, I enjoy attending the staff retirement functions to plant the seed and invite staff to volunteer,” adds Ford. “It is a great way to stay connected with the Health Centre and friends after retirement. It is also a wonderful opportunity for retiring staff to support patients and their families in a role that differs from their employment position.”