They are an army of more than 500. They keep wheelchairs rolling, greet patients and guests, operate a thrift shop to raise scholarship funds, and install Lifeline equipment for people at risk for falls.
If you have visited or been a patient at Venice Regional Bayfront Health, you have certainly met at least one of the Hospital Volunteers of Venice. The nonprofit 501(c)3 organization keeps Venice Regional ticking by supporting the hospital’s mission to provide compassionate, high-quality healthcare services.
Members serve as greeters, receptionists, registrants, escorts, surgery transporters, Lifeline installers, gift shop and thrift store helpers, patient representatives and more. Since 1951, the organization has provided more than $8.65 million in grants and donations to the Venice community.
“Volunteers are vital to operating a hospital. We’re fortunate that so many Venice area residents are interested in serving their neighbors in the variety of roles that are needed for Venice Regional to provide a quality patient experience,” said Ingrid Tetreault, Venice Regional’s patient advocate and volunteer coordinator.
The longevity of service by many Venice Regional volunteers is impressive.
For example, in January, the Hospital Volunteers of Venice honored Dorothy “Dotty” Bradley for serving 23,000 volunteer hours at Venice Regional Bayfront Health since 1992.
Bradley logged tens of thousands of miles as a “stewardess” for American Airlines in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The same interpersonal skills that made her a successful flight attendant – the airline required the cabin crew to remember every passenger’s name – apply to being a hospital volunteer.
“When I signed up to be a hospital volunteer, they asked if I could serve meals,” says Bradley, who began volunteering in the hospital’s snack shop. “I said, ‘I served them in the air, so I suppose I can serve them on the ground.’”
Over the past 25 years, in addition to helping to operate the former snack bar for almost 10 years, Bradley has served as a greeter, escort, errand-runner and front desk aide. Today, she works the front desk one day a week, answering phones, signing in visitors and helping to direct patients and their guests to their destinations.
“I know I make a difference in peoples’ lives sometimes,” Bradley said. “I can spot what older people need and give them a helping hand just by talking to them. I feel like I can make a difference in their day. I feel like that is what the Lord is telling me to do right now.”
Another long-time volunteer, Earl Hannah, has kept Venice Regional’s fleet of wheelchairs rolling for more than 17 years. Hannah and his “trainee,” Lynn Miracle, work in the hospital’s engineering department performing maintenance on the wheelchairs.
A self-effacing, retired truck mechanic, Hannah shrugs off praise for his 17-plus years of service to the hospital.
“I kind of like it. It’s something else to do,” he said. “One day a week, I figure, what the heck? It gives me something to do.”
Hannah began with the Hospital Volunteers of Venice as a front-door greeter, then started repairing electric motors on beds and putting wheelchairs back into service. The hospital’s engineering team could count on Hannah arriving before 7 a.m. every Wednesday to tackle the day’s projects – and have coffee waiting for the crew.
During an informal ceremony last year, the engineering team recognized Hannah with a plaque, and Miracle prepared to assume the lead role for wheelchair repair. Retired from military service, Miracle was recruited to the hospital by his wife, Diana, who already was volunteering at Venice Regional.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a mechanical nature. I enjoyed taking things apart and fixing them,” said Miracle, who has already logged 200-plus hours as a hospital volunteer. He enjoys the hospital’s community feel, striking up conversations as he walks through the facility.
In addition to in-hospital roles, volunteers also serve out in the community on Venice Regional’s behalf. A potentially life-saving service that members of the Hospital Volunteers of Venice offer is installing and maintaining Lifeline monitoring equipment for people who are at risk for falls.
The Lifeline Auto Alert button detects sudden changes in the wearer’s position and automatically alerts first responders. Monitoring a person for falls not only contributes to the individual’s safety and peace of mind, but it also may reduce hospital readmissions.
The volunteers offer a no-cost 60-day trial of the service to patients released from a hospital or rehabilitation facility. There is no obligation after the trial. Individuals who want to continue the service can arrange payment through a local Lifeline office. A 30-day trial is open to members of the public who subscribe to the service.
Proceeds from ongoing service contracts benefit the community through scholarships and grants supplied by the Hospital Volunteers of Venice. More than 1,000 individuals from Palmetto to Punta Gorda are using the Venice-based Lifeline program. For more information on the Lifeline service or the free trial offer, call 941-483-7070.
The volunteer organization provides $1,000 cash scholarships per semester to students residing in the hospital’s service area who maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in a health-related program at any Florida college or university. Scholarships total approximately $50,000 annually.
In addition to the Lifeline service, the Hospital Volunteers of Venice raise funds for scholarships through the hospital gift shop and the popular Elephant’s Trunk Thrift Store in Venice. By the end of 2016, the volunteer organization had awarded more than $826,000 in scholarships to assist students from the hospital’s service area in Sarasota and Charlotte counties to pursue health care education in Florida.
“Our volunteers are essential to the quality of care we provide,” Tetreault said. “If you enjoy making a difference in the lives of others and like to have fun, all it takes is four hours a week. We would be happy to have you join us.”
To inquire about volunteering at Venice Regional, please call 941-483-7050.