Volunteers happy to resume their duties

Pat Campana, of the Village of Silver Lake and a volunteer with UF Health The Villages Hospital, shuttles Dick Nelson, center, of Harbor Hills, and Karen Donley, of the Village Santiago, to the hospital entrance.

While the majority of UF Health The Villages Hospital volunteers are counting the days until they can return, some already are back into the swing of things. After sending volunteers home in March to keep them and patients safe from COVID-19, the hospital reopened six of its 40 volunteer positions.  Some of these include positions at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe and outdoor transportation, which includes the golf carts that shuttle patients and their families between the parking lot and hospital. While not all of the about 900 volunteers have been given permission to return, the ones that have, about 165, are glad to be back. Volunteers make a world of difference in the health care world because of the work they do, said Lou Emmert, volunteer coordinator of UF Health The Villages Hospital Auxiliary Foundation. “One reason so many volunteer is to be productive while also giving something back to the community,” she said. “It takes a lot of volunteers to run things smoothly, especially in health care.”

James Ferris, director of The Center of Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, said volunteers in hospitals can be considered unsung heros because of their dedication to their work.

“Their dedication to the patients helps the hospital to run smoothly, and allows doctors and nurses to spend their time focusing on providing the best health care for their patients,” he said.

Emmert said she is excited to have volunteers return to the facilities, but is keeping a close eye on safety measures.

They are continuing to watch the number of new positive COVID-19 cases, as well as the number of hospitalized cases, to determine when the rest of the volunteers can return, she said.

“We still have 34 other areas in the hospital where volunteers are very anxious to return, and we cannot wait to welcome them back,” the Village of Belle Aire resident said.

When retail businesses began to open back up, the auxiliary foundation made the decision to reopen the Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe . Volunteers were allowed to return as of May 19 to work because of the safety measures that were put in to place, including additional cleaning, social distancing requirements and Plexiglas barriers.

“Safety is a big requirement and we don’t want to put anyone at unnecessary risk, especially since the average age of our volunteers is 71,” Emmert said. “I think (our volunteers) have provided a great deal of support not only for the hospital, but for the patients and their families and visitors.”

John Kane, of the Village of Caroline, is excited to return to driving passengers to the hospital from the parking lot.

“It gives you a feeling of accomplishment each time you get into the shuttle,” he said. “Passengers are really appreciative of it because it means they don’t have to walk in the rain or in the extreme heat, and can instead focus on their loved ones.”

Kane said the hospital made a few adjustments to the shuttles to make them safer for both volunteers and passengers.

“We have Plexiglas separating us [the drivers] from the passengers and we, both riders and drivers, have to wear masks,” he said. “But we make sure everything is wiped down and we stay hydrated.”

DJ McElwain, a Summerfield resident who volunteers at the cafe at UF Health The Villages Hospital, is anxiously waiting to return to her volunteer work. She spends her time working in the cafe helping where she can.

She started volunteering in July 2007 doing inside transportation, which is getting patients ready and bringing them down for X-rays and other tests, she said.

When the hospital changed the position to a paid one, McElwain started volunteering in the waiting room for the emergency department.

“I loved that position,” she said. “It was very rewarding to help the patients coming in for treatment and their families.”

Now she is working in the cafe and said it is much more relaxing for someone her age.

As other volunteers wait patiently to come back to work, they’re still keeping in touch.

“Every year, we are looking for additional volunteers to assist in the numerous positions available,” Emmert said. “Our volunteers show each time they are within the facilities the dedication our volunteers have to the patients and the facility staff. We know what the experience means to them and continue giving them opportunities to learn new skills while making a difference.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities or to become a volunteer, contact Emmert at 352-751-8871.

Staff writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or andrea.davis@thevillagesmedia.com.