ONANCOCK, Virginia – Back in 1988, Ruth Gaskins, now 74, felt drawn to volunteer.
She had a love for people, and after her first day as a hospital volunteer, realized she’d found something special.
It’s why, all these years later, Gaskins is celebrated as Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital’s longest serving volunteer having logged 5,819 hours (and counting).
In her 31 years volunteering, “I’ve done it all,” said Gaskins. “I’ve done the mail, greeted people, carried flowers, carried food, escorted people…whatever had to be done, I did.”
She did it just wanting “patients to know they are loved and cared about and that we are doing all we can to help them,” she said. “I just want them to leave with a smile.”
Today, as Riverside continues its 2019 celebration of its 10-year anniversary of serving the Eastern Shore community, Gaskins hopes to recruit more new volunteers and continue the strong tradition of the hospital’s 61-year-old volunteer program.
A History of Service
Established in 1958 by a women’s auxiliary group called the “Pink Ladies,” the volunteer program was created to address a nursing shortage at the hospital – then named Northampton-Accomack Memorial.
At that time, a group of 30 women would split shifts seven days a week, first helping out at the information desk and then taking on more responsibilities as the years went by. When more volunteers were needed, they would spread the word in newspaper articles.
Though no longer “Pink Ladies,” Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital’s volunteer program is still a collection of dedicated men and women looking to help out in any way they can.
Volunteering is a Gift
The Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital Auxiliary is another dedicated group of volunteers. Comprised of 100+ members, Auxilians raise funds for special projects and events at the hospital as well as run the Althea Shelton Carousel Gift Shop inside the hospital.
Deborah Cooley is president of the Auxiliary and oversees gift shop operations. She said volunteering at the shop is a “way to give back to the community and the hospital.”
Volunteers open and close the gift shop, stock merchandise, and assist with any customer needs.
“Sometimes people come in just to get a break from visiting a family member, and we can be that person that makes a difference for just a moment,” said Cooley.
All proceeds from the gift shop are given to projects needed at Riverside Shore. Most recently the Auxiliary paid for a vascular echocardiogram machine.
In addition to nurses, physicians, social workers and occupational therapists, volunteers are an integral part of the Riverside Shore Hospice care team. Trained in hospice care, volunteers focus on the patient and the family instead of the disease.
“Many of our volunteers have personal experience with loved ones in hospice care and it allows them to make a special connection with patients and families,” said Maegan Smith, Hospice volunteer coordinator.
Smith said her favorite part of the job is meeting with patients and learning about their interests and hobbies. This helps her match them up with a volunteer with whom they can really connect.
Steve Borgess has volunteered with the hospice program since 2017. Though it can be heart wrenching at times, Borgess said the work also includes “much good humor, warmth and friendship.”
“Riverside Shore Hospice isn’t work for me; it’s a privilege, a privilege I’m grateful for every day I have the chance to serve someone in need,” said Borgess. “I also get to work with some of the sincerest, kind, professional caregivers I’ve ever met…the staff at Riverside Shore Hospice.”
Cancer Center Volunteers
When the Cancer Center in Nassawadox was built in 2003, volunteers were needed to help transport medications, specimens, mail and meals back and forth from the hospital via golf cart.
Since then, the program has grown to include a more personal interaction between patients and volunteers.
“Cancer Center Volunteers are quite often our former patients,” said Jane Duer, Cancer Center registrar. “They appreciated the kindnesses given to them during treatment and look at this as a way to give back. Cancer treatment can be difficult, and frequently patients will talk to a volunteer instead of burdening their loved ones.”
Become a Volunteer
Currently, “we have 42 volunteers who help out in many areas of the hospital,” said Jennifer Stanhope, human resources specialist and volunteer coordinator.
Volunteers range in age between 20 and 83-years-old and typically volunteer one day a week – either a four- or eight-hour shift.
“We work around their schedules,” she said. “We appreciate any time they can give to us.”
To become a volunteer, candidates must be 18-years-old, pass a background check, provide references and complete an interview process. Volunteers are required to have flu and TB shots as well as attend annual safety/infection control training.
“Having the volunteers really helps our team members focus more on patient care,” said Stanhope. “Our patients and team members really look forward to them coming – they just help out so much.”
In addition to volunteering at the front desk or doing administrative tasks, volunteers can visit patients’ rooms and monitor customer satisfaction, help transport patients and their families from the parking lot to the hospital, help with pet therapy or music therapy, answer the phones in the emergency room or intensive care unit as well as help discharge patients.