For the first time in months, Ralph Flood is enjoying the return of familiar faces along with new ones to volunteer with him in the emergency department at UF Health The Villages Hospital. “It’s been a long time since we have been able to see the volunteers,” the Village of Duval resident said. UF Health The Villages Hospital is restoring positions for volunteers in the emergency department. The hospital asked volunteers to stay away in March 2020 because of COVID-19 safety precautions, then attempted to bring them back in July 2021, but closed the doors again when the delta variant emerged.
“Personally I’m so happy to be back,” Flood said. “I’ve spent maybe three or four years at the hospital, but I have spent about two years in the emergency department as a leader. All the department volunteers report to me, and man, it’s great to see them return.”
Currently volunteers can assist in the cafe, the gift shop, at the front desk, in the emergency department, in the intensive care unit, at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe in Lady Lake and in a variety of other positions.
“We have positions for everyone,” said Lou Emmert, volunteer coordinator for UF Health The Villages Hospital Auxiliary Foundation, which helps provide money and volunteers to the hospital. “There are positions for those who like to stand, sit, walk the floors — pretty much whatever they like, we can find something for them to do.”
Even with volunteer opportunities being limited at the hospital because of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Villagers’ contributions stand at 78,000 hours since January.
Cori Purdom is in her eighth year of volunteering at the hospital.
“I love just coming in and helping people,” the Village of Bridgeport at Creekside Landing resident said. “It makes me feel good to know I can lend a hand. I’ve really missed being here and working with the patients.”
Joe Nitto, a Village of Springdale resident and volunteer for about five years, also said he is happy to be back.
“People are very appreciative of the tasks volunteers do,” he said. “We help by bringing them warm blankets when they are cold, bringing them food and just being a person they can talk to.”
With the emergency department only allowing one family member to be with each patient, Nitto said the patients are extremely thankful to have someone else help out.
“We have been running the floors trying to get information for their loved ones,” he said. “Sometimes, they can go for a while without hearing from a doctor or nurse, and they express those concerns to us and we try to get that information for them.”
Dean Simmons, director of the emergency department, said having the volunteers back makes a huge difference in morale.
“We love them,” he said. “They help us and are extremely beneficial for the patients. They are always cleaning, assisting the patients, being an extra shoulder for someone and lighting up the hallways for the staff with their smiles.”
The hospital also is taking the safety of volunteers into consideration.
“We know not everyone is ready to return to volunteering, even if they are vaccinated,” said Emmert, of the Village of Belle Aire. “We understand that, but we also want them to know when they are ready to return, we will be here.”
Emmert said another reason to volunteer is that it is good for your health.
“There is such a positive attitude in our volunteers,” she said. “They get plenty of exercise walking around helping out, their satisfaction of life tends to go up as they are helping those in need and even sometimes volunteering can lower stress.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, call 352-751-8176 or fill out an application at tvrhfoundation.org/volunteers/how-to-apply.
As Flood took another walk around the emergency department, he smiled to himself as he watched the volunteers work.
“It’s wonderful to step into the hospital and be greeted by a volunteer or see their eyes light up when they step inside for the first time in months,” he said. “The staff is so appreciative of the volunteers and the volunteers make a huge difference.”
Senior writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or email@example.com.