SERVICE WITH A SMILE: Hospital volunteers find joy in helping others

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Volunteers Regina and Don Bowen offer information to a patient headed to an appointment at Hancock Regional Hospital. The couple divide their duties: Regina often gives out directions, while Don is on hand to escort those who need assistance. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — Beth Waltz smiled as she wheeled a woman in a wheelchair into the vestibule at Hancock Regional Hospital, handing her off to fellow volunteer Larry Ellett.

“This lady is ready to roll,” Waltz said cheerfully, as Ellett took the handles and ushered the woman to a car waiting just outside the door.

Getting patients from one point to another is all in a day’s work for many of the hospital’s corps of volunteers, who work in tandem with hospital staff to serve patients every day.

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Elizabeth Preston, the hospital’s volunteer services and gift shop manager, doesn’t know what the hospital would do without them.

“They saved the hospital $1.4 million last year,” Preston said, but they did much more than save a lot of money, she said. They also put patients at ease.

“This guy has been great to talk to today,” said Marty Charlton, referring to volunteer Don Bowen, who kept Charlton company as he awaited a ride from his wife Monday afternoon.

“We’ve had a good time sitting here waiting for my ride. This one even let me behind the desk to leave my wife a voicemail,” said Charlton, gesturing towards Bowen’s wife, Regina , who volunteers alongside her husband two days a week.

The Greenfield couple say there’s no better way to fill their downtime in retirement than giving back to others at the hospital.

“You get to pick and choose how you spend your time in retirement, and this seemed like a good opportunity to fill my day by helping people,” said Don Bowen, leaning against the information desk sporting a hospital-issued blue blazer, khakis and a red baseball cap.

He and his wife, both 72, spend their shifts directing people to where they need to go within the hospital’s professional center. Regina often gives out directions, while Don is on hand to personally escort those who need assistance.

He opted to focus his time at the hospital as a way to give back to those who supported him when he was a patient in Hancock Regional Hospital’s emergency room years ago.

Besides, the key to a happy retirement is staying busy, he said, and volunteering seemed like a much better alternative than simply sitting around at home.

For him and his wife, the best part about volunteering is the people they meet.

Sandra Schaefer agrees. She started volunteering in August as a way to get out of the house and socialize, not to mention giving back. “It’s much better than just sitting at home talking to my dog,” she said with a smile.

Schaefer, 69, works 20 hours a month overseeing the hospital’s gift shop. She kept volunteering even after recently moving to Noblesville. “I love it. I can’t give it up,” she said from her post behind the gift shop counter this week.

Just a few feet away, Waltz and Mary Watkins were manning their post behind the information desk inside the hospital’s lobby.

“We’re a team outfit,” said Waltz, gesturing towards Watkins. “We keep little tick marks of how many people we’ve helped.” They had escorted 21 people to their destinations by 3 p.m. of their shift that day.

Waltz, 76, started volunteering at the hospital as a way to give back to a facility that had taken good care of her and her family over the years. She works two four-hour shifts each week.

“I’ve had positive experiences here as a patient and with members of my family who were patients here. My volunteering is payback to the hospital for taking such good care of me and my family over the years,” she said.

“I know people were there to hold my dad’s hand when I couldn’t be there, and I want to show my appreciation by doing my part,” she said.

Watkins, 66, wasted no time in finding someplace to volunteer when she moved to Greenfield from Huntington in 2017, a year after her husband died. “I just wanted to give back,” she said.

Waltz laughs when asked what the most commonly asked question is. “I’d say ‘Where’s the bathroom,’” she said.

“But mostly people need help finding where they’re trying to go. A lot of people are excited or anxious by the situation that brought them here, so we’ll offer to take them where they need to go rather than have them find it themselves.”

For those who are upset, sometimes just giving them a smile or a cup of water goes a long way, she said.

Ellett, 77, of Greenfield, enjoys working his post at the main entrance of the hospital, where he greets everyone with a warm hello and transports those who need help getting to their destination.

He’s been volunteering for 6½ years. His wife, Marsha, a retired nurse, volunteers at the information desk.

Preston said Ellett’s warm, friendly presence is a comfort to patients who make routine visits to the hospital.

“I do find the regulars get connected to the volunteers,” she said, “and the volunteers also get connected to each other. They’ll find their people and get together and play cards. They seem to have a great time working together,” she said.

The hospital’s motto is “loving people for a living,” said Preston, and that notion extends to the hospital’s volunteers and employees. When COVID first hit and the hospital cafeteria was converted to a mini-mart for staff, volunteers were also welcome. Staff members would even call and check on volunteers, asking if there’s anything they needed.

When COVID-19 vaccinations were rolled out to hospital staff starting in December, the volunteers were included, too.

“Steve wants to make sure the volunteers are taken care of just like employees are taken care of,” said Preston, referring to hospital president Steve Long.

The hospital currently has 150 volunteers assisting patients within the hospital, while 250 more help out in various other capacities, like assisting the Hancock Health Foundation, delivering mail, or making crafts like warming bags for new moms. Some volunteers drive a golf cart to escort visitors from their vehicles in the parking lot to the hospital’s front door.

While the average age of volunteers is around 70, Preston said those as young as 15 are welcome to participate.

Volunteers must work at least four hours per week, but some choose to go well above and beyond.

One particular woman, Sue Lawhead, has racked up more than 5,000 hours since she first started volunteering at the hospital in 1997.

Lawhead is lovingly known as “Grandma” throughout the hospital for her knack for bringing in homemade treats to share with staff and volunteers.

“She makes the best brownies and peanut brittle. Everyone has their personal favorites, and she’ll take requests, especially if you have a birthday coming up,” Preston said.

Throughout the year, volunteers help run special sales to raise money for the hospital — selling everything from garden mums and scrubs to jewelry and chocolate.

Last year an estimated $76,000 in sales and gift shop revenues went to support various departments in the hospital, said Preston, who appreciates how much pride the volunteers take in supporting the hospital and the people who come through its doors each day.

Schaefer, who was found manning the gift shop earlier this week, said the pleasure is all hers.

“All the staff and volunteers I’ve worked with here are so wonderful. It’s a joy to be with them,” she said.

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Hancock Regional Hospital is always seeking volunteers to assist at the hospital in a variety of roles. Volunteers must be at least 15 years of age and volunteer a minimum of two shifts per month, and agree to volunteer for at least six months. Those interested should call 317-468-4252 or visit hancockregionalhospital.org/contact/volunteer-opportunities to apply online.

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