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by Faith DeAmbrose
In 2012, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital was served by the volunteer actions of 45 people. Volunteers helped execute hospital events, assisted in the cafeteria, helped with the art displays in hallways and provided patient assistance in the medical and surgery units.
Seeking to “expand” its current volunteer program, BHMH “has positions for individuals who have two hours or more a week to volunteer,” according to a press release. The hospital will accept “applications from those interested in giving back to their community” and will focus on attracting “greeters for patients and visitors.” And while the first focus will be on greeters, BHMH would “consider any skills that community members may present to us and will work to find a good match within the organization,” explained Community Relations Manager Kelley Columber in an email following the issuance of the press release on February 19.
Blue Hill Memorial Hospital’s volunteer program is under the direction of the organization’s human resources department, and according to HR director Dave Wheaton, “As our volunteer program grows, we will identify opportunities to utilize the skills of those who wish to volunteer their time.”
Volunteerism and BHMH
For more than 40 years, BHMH has had an organized volunteer program and while it has, at times, been more robust than others, the uniting of organization and community has been the hallmark of the program.
Beginning in 1973 and in preparation for a hospital expansion, a Hospital Auxiliary was formed. Meeting at the First Congregational Church basement to figure out a way forward, the creation of the auxiliary was not only about assisting the hospital in its expansion efforts, but about creating a community connection, explained Jean Devereux who helped form the auxiliary and served as its president for many years.
For Devereux, the idea of a hospital auxiliary seemed a natural way to merge the community and hospital, but for those who dedicated their time to its creation and day-to-day activities, the auxiliary became much more, she explained in a recent interview. Founding members Devereux and Bette Britt talk about their days in the auxiliary with exactness and tell of the “pink smocks” they wore—each still having them still “hanging in the closet.”
The process laid out for expansion and community involvement is well documented in an internal hospital publication called House Call, which made its debut in May of that year.
“We’re waiting for your ideas; after all Blue Hill Memorial Hospital is everyone’s hospital—it’s not private nor exclusive—one goes there to visit sick friends, for emergency treatment of minor injuries, to sometimes be a patient,” states the first page of the first publication of House Call, which had a print run of 3,000 copies.
One goal of the auxiliary, explained Britt, was “to make sure people felt they were part of the hospital and that the hospital was part of the community.” Britt, who wrote the early issues of House Call said community outreach was important, especially as the hospital embarked on raising (at that time) $1 million for the proposed expansion.
In the early days of the auxiliary volunteers “worked” in shifts, augmenting the paid workers in areas such as cafeteria work, nightly switchboard work, training of candy stripers, sorting and delivering mail and delivering items to patient rooms.
The auxiliary was also the significant fundraising arm of the hospital, said Britt, and members ran a gift shop at the hospital and organized activities such as game nights and dances to help fund hospital operations. “The events were wildly popular,” she said.
Recounting how volunteers went door to door exchanging donations for daffodils, Devereux said that many in the auxiliary believed strongly in the mission of the hospital and felt they were “helping the community and helping the hospital save money at the same time.”
The auxiliary followed the standards set forth by the American Hospital Association. According to Devereux, she obtained a book from AHA that laid out how to start and run an auxiliary, detailing specifics such as confidentiality and general rules followed in the medical profession. Early founders of the auxiliary traveled across New England to attend workshops. “We were carefully trained and very professional,” said Devereux, adding that the auxiliary took great pride in its work and took issues such as patient privacy and ethics seriously.
Devereux and Britt can trace the existence of the formally sanctioned auxiliary program to the late 1980s, but neither can go beyond that. Attempts to gather additional information from BHMH specifically about the history of the auxiliary program have been mostly unsuccessful, although according to Columber, the hospital’s “volunteer program has never ended.”
“In the past, the volunteer program was managed by the community relations department. Because of tough budget decisions and a necessary focus to prioritize resources elsewhere, the visibility of the volunteer program has weakened,” said Columber.
However, said Columber, the hospital is recommitting resources to again growing the program.
Those interested in volunteering should contact Heather Mott at 374-3453.