Volunteers improving care for patients

By Selma Al-Samarrai

When you look inside volunteering in healthcare you will find many reasons why people give back – a personal connection to a hospital where they or a loved one received care, a life milestone reached with retirement but a strong connection to the place where they spent years of their career working, or it’s a career of interest and an opportunity for hands-on experience and a new start.

Within Toronto’s newly amalgamated hospital network of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, there exists the dedicated commitment of an incredible 1,436 volunteers. Last year, the total number of hours contributed by this massive group of volunteers climbed to 139,290. The reason behind why each of these people devote their time to giving back may come from different places, but the common thread that they all share is the drive and passion for making things better for patients and their families.

Jennifer Barretto is a volunteer at St. Michael’s Hospital.

In January of 2009, while Jennifer Barretto was considering a possible career in medicine, she started volunteering at the General Internal Medicine department at St. Michael’s Hospital. Having been born at St. Michael’s, she felt it would be an appropriate place to give back while also getting a feel for a potential career in health care.

At the General Internal Medicine department, most of the patients Jennifer interacts with are elderly, and a few are from out of town, immobile, or displaced.

“The patients that come through the doors of St. Michael’s bring with them a diverse array of experiences and needs. Every weekend they invite me into their life and for a brief moment I am provided with the opportunity to make a positive impact in their life,” says Jennifer.

During her volunteer hours, Jennifer spends the majority of her time conversing with the patients, engaging in philosophical conversations, doing crossword puzzles, sharing laughs, and helping them complete their daily menus.

Since she started volunteering, Jennifer has pursued a different career, but says the patients and staff at St. Michael’s are the reason she keeps coming back. “Every weekend I witness patients who courageously face their circumstances, and staff who compassionately help them see it through. I consider my years at St. Michael’s a true blessing.”

Zak Nakhuda is a volunteer at Providence Healthcare.

Over in Scarborough, you will find Zak Nakhuda volunteering at Providence Healthcare. Zak started volunteering in 2015 and he splits his time between two very different departments: Ambulatory Services and Human Resources.

Zak started volunteering at Providence after completing a diploma in administrative studies with specialization in medical administration. “I always knew I wanted to help and make a difference in the lives of others,” says Zak.

In Ambulatory Services, Zak helps with administrative tasks to support the clinics’ staff and patients. In Human Resources, he assists with special projects by providing administrative support to the department’s staff.

Zak is well-known for his reliability, and for bringing his positive attitude and passion to everything that he does. He credits his volunteer experience with helping him build meaningful relationships with staff, fellow volunteers, patients, and the community at large. “It gives me pride to know that I’ve been able to give back in so many different and positive ways. I continue to grow as a person through my volunteer experiences.”

Retirement often means spending less time at the place you work, but nine long-term employees at St. Joseph’s Health Centre decided that retirement meant having more time to volunteer – at their former place of work.

7 of the 9 St. Joseph’s volunteers. Caption: (From L to R): Heather Jones, Sophie Czyzewski, Kathleen O’Brien, Maura Tootill, Joanne Bak, Nellie Dato, Sister Mary Carmen Maclean (not pictured: Vilma Sharp, Shoney Farinas)

Together, the nine volunteers Joanne Bak, Sophie Czyzewski, Nellie Dato, Shoney Farinas, Heather Jones, Sister Mary Carmen Maclean, Kathleen O’Brien, Vilma Sharp, and Maura Tootill, have a combined total of 254 years of employment at St. Joseph’s and now 125 years of volunteer service as well.

Their reasons for coming back included wanting to give back to the community, help patients find their way around the big hospital, and support patients as they recover from surgery.

Spirited and creative giving

Their hard work and dedication was recognized by St. Joseph’s in February when they won a ‘Legend Award’ for living the Hospital’s value of Community of Service – an award that is earned through nomination by peers.