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Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 06:00 AM

Volunteers needed at both hospitals to give exceptional customer service

Marshall Medical North and South each have their own Volunteer Auxiliary whose members can be seen buzzing around the hospitals in their bright pink smocks.

People expect medical care when they go to a hospital, but they may get a little something extra thanks to an army of volunteers who happily donate their time to make the experience as positive as it can be.

“Volunteers are the extra that allows us to give exceptional customer service,” says Diane Butler, director of volunteer services at Marshall Medical Center North. “A hospital has to have volunteers. The customer service is what keeps our patients coming back.”

 They provide support for the hospitals, visitors, patients and staff, says Cheri Powers, director of volunteer services at South, where the Auxiliary Volunteers serve in the gift shop and at the surgery waiting room desk.

“These areas function in assisting patients and family members with something as simple as directions or helping pick out the perfect gift, balloon or candy,” Powers says.” “Many of our volunteers have been here from 15 to 25 years. We have had mothers that volunteered and then their daughters have volunteered with us, as well as retired teachers, friends of volunteers and other retired professionals.”

Due to aging and health issues, both hospitals desperately need more people willing to donate their time. Volunteers are asked to work two four-hour shifts a month, but can work more if they would like. Most volunteers are women but men are welcome too.

“Men make good volunteers,” Butler says. “It’s definitely open to men too.”

Volunteers can choose to work morning, afternoon or evening shifts. They also help during fundraising sales, which, along with gift shop sales, pay for special projects for the hospital.

“Everything we make goes back into the hospital,” says Sandra Gilliland of Boaz, president of South’s Auxiliary, which handles the business side of volunteering. As non-profits, the Hospital Auxiliaries reinvest the money they earn from the gift shop as well as from jewelry and book sales back into the hospitals to pay for a variety of projects from improvements at the Marshall Cancer Care Center to warming beds for newborns and modernized wheelchairs.

Gilliland is the longest serving volunteer at South, with 21 ½ years under her smock. She started volunteering every other Saturday morning while she was still working full time for an insurance company. When she retired after 35 years, Gilliland took on two more days at the hospital.

“It’s the customer service side of my life,” she says. “Knowing you’re providing a service for people just makes life worth living. It really does.”

North has a volunteer who has served for 46 years. Nada Hornbuckle of Arab started volunteering at the old Arab Hospital then moved to Marshall North when it opened in 1990. Another longtime volunteer from Arab, 95-year-old Christine Fowler, still comes to the hospital every Wednesday to deliver The Advertiser-Gleam to patients.

Volunteers agree that donating their time is rewarding and helps them as much as others. Many of them also need someone to talk to.

“I enjoy it because I run into so many people from years back it’s like a reunion,” says Betty Bowen of Albertville, who works at the South O.R. desk making coffee and giving people directions. “I like helping people. It gets me out of the house.”

Volunteering in a hospital gift shop is part candy salesperson and part therapist. Many of the people who wander into the tiny but cheerful space are looking for a kind face and someone who will listen.

“Many patients come down who have been in the hospital a few days and they just need somebody to talk to,” says Brenda Smith of Crossville, who has volunteered in the Marshall South gift shop for nearly 15 years. “Some of them are just overwhelmed.”

Darlene Smith Murphy volunteered two years ago after her husband died.

“It gave me something to do and something to think about,” she says. “I like talking to people and trying to make them feel better.”

Brenda said the gift shop sells more individual pieces of candy than anything, followed closely by balloons.

“Our candy is cheaper than the machines so a lot of our customers are employees,” she says.

Linda Davidson, buyer for the gift shop at North, says baby items are big sellers there followed by flowers and candy.

Betty Hendrix, president of the North Hospital Auxiliary, started volunteering at North a year after she retired from teaching 30 years in the Arab school system. She enjoys sitting at the information desk in the hospital lobby because it gives her to chance to reconnect to people she hasn’t seen in years. She also enjoys helping people get to where they need to go.

“We walk them to places rather than just give directions so they have a personal contact,” she says. “I really like it.”

Marshall North also has a small group of volunteers called Angels for Special Patients who provide relief for families by sitting with patients from infants to elderly. To volunteer at North for this program, the information desk, E.R., the lab, pharmacy or gift shop, pick up an application in the main lobby or call Diane Butler at (256)571-8010.

To volunteer at South in the gift shop or the O.R. information desk, please call Cheri Powers at (256)840-3488.