Volunteers Make the Difference in York Central’s Dialysis Units


The interesting thing about volunteers is each one has their own story, their own reason for spending their free time helping others. It may be because of a personal connection, the desire to get into a routine or perhaps to fill the space of something missing from their life. Regardless of the motivation, many organizations simply couldn’t continue doing what they do without the help of volunteers.

York Central Hospital is one of those organizations. The staff, physicians, patients and visitors who walk through the doors daily receive incredible support and assistance from more than 1,000 dedicated women, men and students who make up the team at York Central Hospital. In 2009/10 York Central volunteers donated 85,000 hours of service. One would be hard pressed to find a unit or department that has not been helped by the volunteers who walk the halls day and night, week days and weekends.

About York Central’s Chronic Kidney Disease Programt

Some units require more help than others; York Central’s Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) Program, which provides kidney care for patients in York Region, is one of those units. Established in 1996, this regional program has faced increased demand and has steadily grown in order to continue delivering high-quality patient care.

Due to the increased demand and the need to deliver these vital services closer to home, a dialysis satellite unit was opened in Oak Ridges in 2006. A few short years later in 2009, the program expanded again with an additional satellite dialysis centre in Vaughan. These two sites added another 42 stations and the ability to provide these essential services to 164 hemodialysis patients and 11 home hemodialysis patients currently receiving care.

In early 2009 the unit moved into its new home at the hospital’s main site and is currently treating 180 hemodialysis patients at 37 stations and 70 home peritoneal patients.

Volunteer role expands

“Volunteers have been working in the dialysis unit for a long time. But when we experienced all of the growth and the program’s expansion into the community, the volunteer component was more essential than ever and really became an integral part of the program,” said Karen Andersen, Director, Volunteer and Community Resources. “We now have volunteers in all three locations working three shifts each day, seven days a week. Despite the challenging nature of the role, dialysis has one of the lowest turnover rates. Volunteers thrive in this environment and end up staying there for a long time.”

John McLaughlin is one of those long-time dialysis volunteers. It started in 2001 when he was with his wife who was receiving treatment in the unit. He was sitting with his wife when one of the nurses came by to check on them. John suggested the nurse take a break but she said she needed to get blankets, water and some other things for patients. “I said, you sit down and I’ll go get that stuff,” recalled McLaughlin and that was how his role as a volunteer began. Almost ten years later, John is just as dedicated to his role as he was on day one.

The nature of dialysis treatment means the same patients come in regularly; anywhere from three to five times per week and stay for several hours each visit. On average, patients will visit the dialysis centre 156 times annually. It’s a unique opportunity for volunteers to build relationships with patients they see each week and for patients to see a familiar face when they come in for treatment.

Volunteers in this unit have a lot of responsibilities. They inform patients of changes in their dialysis schedules, they escort them to and from the unit and they help with directing the flow of traffic within the waiting area. They also help with filing, photocopying, faxing and general reception duties.

The benefits for patients

For Barbara Gray, Manager of the CKD Program, it’s about the extras York Central can provide, thanks to the volunteers. “They get to know the little things that make a difference and with this knowledge, volunteers are able to personalize the care they deliver to patients,” said Gray. “Moreover, they free up staff time and the volunteers see the valuable role they play and how they fit in with the team.”

“I help the staff out but my main priority is the patients,” said Janet Bizyk a volunteer for two years who takes her role on the team seriously. Although on a break from volunteering due to personal health issues, Janet wants to get better so she can get back to delivering her “happy cart” on Fridays in the unit. On the happy cart, she brings tea, water, blankets, newspapers, a “how are you doing today” and a friendly ear. Patients will often ask Janet to wake them up if they are sleeping when she comes by with the cart.

“I like being able to interact with patients. They are so appreciative of everything you do for them, even the smallest things like introducing new patients to others to help them feel welcome,” added Bizyk. “The best days are when we get to celebrate someone getting a kidney transplant – it gives everyone hope.”

“Janet and John are just two of the many volunteers who donated over 3000 hours to the dialysis program in 2009/10,” said Jo-anne Marr, Interim President and CEO. “Volunteers are an integral component for not only the CKD Program but also for all of York Central Hospital and how we deliver care to the community. Without our volunteers, we couldn’t do what we do best – caring to make a difference.”