A Volunteer’s Perspective

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To set the scene: my situation is such that my hospital, Mercy Hospitals in Bakersfield, does not have a volunteer services manager, but does have an auxiliary. As president of the auxiliary, I do not have the same role as a volunteer services manager, which has made it difficult to help our volunteers navigate this pandemic.

As part of a major health care system, Dignity Health, guidance for returning volunteers is universal for all 150-plus system hospitals. Before returning volunteers to the hospital, the COVID positivity percentage rate must be below a rate that is specific to each hospital community for a minimum of 30 days. Once these criterion are met, volunteers can begin returning. However, additional restrictions will be enforced, including age, pre-existing conditions, hospital service areas, local health department approval, and training. With the percentages currently above the desired rate and our county currently in the “purple” tier, it is unknown when volunteers will return. 

There are two neighboring hospitals in the Bakersfield area – Adventist Health Tehachapi and Kern Medical. To date, Adventist Health has not returned volunteers, but the volunteer director has created a plan once approval from the system is received. Kern Medical is in the early stages of returning volunteers, beginning with their gift shop volunteers. 

As we wait for approval to return volunteers to our hospital, I have taken advantage of several CHA/CAHHS Zoom meetings and found them to be a valuable resource. It is comforting to know that my fellow volunteers and I are not the only ones who are struggling to adapt. 

The CAHHS-sponsored Zoom educational sessions on topics such as online fundraising and expanding our service areas have also been helpful and have opened my eyes to different avenues of support for our hospital and ways to keep the community engaged. 

In our case — prior to the pandemic, — volunteers only had service points inside the hospital, but.  the pandemic has forced us to be open to new ideas. We were able to fill a request for volunteers at one of our outreach centers doing food service. This one, additional service area has brought our volunteers to the attention of directors of several of the different community outreach centers, essentially opening a door when a window closed. We have been able to show the outreach centers how the volunteers can help them in their daily operations. Personally, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity and look forward to my weekly volunteer shift.

Even though volunteers are not back in the hospital in our official volunteer capacity, we are happy to serve where needed, and take comfort in seeing that other hospitals are slowly beginning to return volunteers — slowly and surgically. 

We are all aware that after this pandemic is over, volunteering will never be the same as before. If there is a silver lining to this current upheaval it is that we are all being forced to take a look at the what and the where regarding our support of our hospitals, then envision what that will look like as we exit this tunnel together.