Volunteers turn donated time into renewed purpose

Swedish Hospital utilizes skills of generous individuals to offset high cost of healthcare
By Dan Aznoff | Apr 05, 2018
Photo by: Dan Aznoff All 250 individuals who volunteer time at Swedish Hospital in Edmonds has his or her own reason for donating time. Mill Creek resident Kevin Williams (second from right) said he found “his purpose” at the hospital after he left his career in retail.  Michiko Euling (far left) uses her time in the gift shop to polish her English. Retired nurse Theresa Blakeney began volunteering after losing her husband. Simon Chann (far right) has continued to volunteer after realizing he did not want to become a doctor.

Mill Creek resident Kevin Williams was lost after leaving 30 years in retail.

He said he was able to find himself again when he began to volunteer time on the surgery floor of the Swedish Hospital campus in Edmonds.

“Helping others gave me a sense of purpose again,” Williams said as he rubbed his chin in thought. “Being a volunteer at the hospital confirmed that I can enjoy what I do at the same time I contribute back to my community.”

Williams is one of 250 people who donate at least one four-hour shift at the hospital every week, according to Evelyn Hinchman, coordinator of volunteer and retail services at the suburban hospital. Hinchman said there are about 450 people registered in the hospital’s volunteer pool.

Volunteers at Swedish staff the information desk in the lobby as well as provide assistance on patient floors, allowing doctors and nurses to spend more time with each patient.

Every volunteer has a own reason for contributing time at the hospital. Theresa Blakeney contacted Swedish almost 17 years ago when she lost her husband after a prolonged illness. The Everett resident had spent 42 years as a registered nurse.

“This (volunteering) has fulfilled something that was missing in my life,” Blakeney said. “I realized my life had become just killing hours at home.”

Her experience has proven to be a benefit for some of the younger nurses on the surgical floor as well. Blakeney has spent more than 3,400 hours at the hospital since becoming a volunteer in 2001.

The Swedish Hospital campus in Edmonds provides both inpatient and outpatient services with 227 beds and 450 medical professionals on staff. A separate building houses an outpatient cancer treatment center.

Not all of the volunteers at Swedish are retired. Michiko Euling began staffing the gift shop about a year ago as part of her own technique to master the English language after she lost her husband. She has volunteered more than 4,000 hours at the hospital since 1997.

“I realized that I did not have many friends beyond the Japanese community,” she said in a quiet voice. “Volunteering in the gift shop gives me the chance to talk with many people.

“The volunteers are my family now.”

The volunteer hours Simon Chann has spent at Swedish have helped to shape his future. The student originally wanted to spend time at the hospital to get a head start for a career in medicine. He continued to donate time after he realized he did not want to become a doctor.

“It did not take long to realize that I did not need to have a background in medicine or an expansive knowledge of healthcare to be a contributor as a volunteer. “The one thing people want most is to talk,” Chann said with a smile. “I can handle that. Talking is one thing that I am very good at.”

Julie Norman, the manager of Volunteer Services at Swedish in Edmonds, emphasized that talking and sharing time with patients and families are the two most important contributions volunteers can make. Volunteers are often trained to assist in more than one area of the hospital. Raegan Fisher is the hospital’s supervisor of volunteers.

Hinchman said the hospital has counselors and social workers to deal with patients or families who may have sensitive issues they want to share. Volunteers are trained, she said, to direct issues that may arise to the professional who can provide the appropriate assistance.

“People are sometimes worried that they will be left to deal with patients, or family members, who are dealing with sensitive issues of life-and-death,” Hinchman said. “There are times that families may go to a volunteer they have established a connection with. We train our volunteers to be good listeners and not put themselves in an awkward position.”

Volunteers at Swedish are required to be at least 18 years old and make a commitment of at least 100 hours. Once accepted into the program, volunteers are given the option of selecting the day or days they wish to work and which department they prefer.

For more information on becoming a volunteer, contact Hinchman at evelyn.hinchman@swedish.org or call 425-640-4340.

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