Volunteers help heal at Pomona Valley Hospital

Published: March 26th, 2010

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The medical community at the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center thrives because of its associates.

Much like the thrill of driving a go-cart, Omega Neely finds that a day of shuttle driving at PVHMC is hardly work. As a  volunteer associate, Neely is one of nearly a thousand respected members of the Pomona Valley Hospital community. / photo by Courtney Droke

Much like the thrill of driving a go-cart, Omega Neely finds that a day of shuttle driving at PVHMC is hardly work. As a volunteer associate, Neely is one of nearly a thousand respected members of the Pomona Valley Hospital community. / photo by Courtney Droke

by Mark Vidal
photography by Courtney Droke

It is just after eight o’clock in the morning at Hillcrest retirement community in La Verne. Ruth Nickels has finished a session of water aerobic exercises and is ready to seize the work day ahead.

Documents near her computer, neatly piled two feet high, await Ruth’s office arrival. Dressed in her neatly pressed burgundy uniform, Ruth gets into her car and drives to the same place she has been faithfully driving to for the past 40 years, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. And to this day, she has never seen a paycheck.

“I feel like I get more than I give,” Ruth shares with a smile. At 93 years old, Ruth has witnessed many changes take place at Pomona Valley since first volunteering in 1968. “The hospital was great back then, and it’s even better now,” Ruth says, recalling the reason she started volunteering in the first place.

After being treated for an enlarged heart at Pomona Valley Community Hospital, Wally Nickels, Ruth’s son and former La Verne College student, passed away at the age of 28 in April 1968. Seven months later, still grieving, Ruth began serving as a volunteer at the hospital in appreciation of the satisfactory care her son received. “I wanted to give back, really for the good that volunteering can do for others. It makes you feel good helping someone out. It gives you a lift,” Ruth says. And it was that lift that kept Ruth going, going for four decades and becoming a valued member of the PVHMC family, which, like Ruth, has a rich history.

Growing with the community

What began in 1903 inside a two-and-a-half story house amidst a community of citrus farmers, has now flourished into a 450-bed multi-specialty medical center and one of the largest not-for-profit teaching hospitals in the eastern Los Angeles and western San Bernar­dino counties.

“A lot like the University, the hospital has had to meet the needs of the growing community in the last 100 years. And it has done just that,” says President Stephen Morgan of the University of La Verne, a volunteer himself.

Since the early ’90s, Steve has served on the board of directors at PVHMC as volunteer chairman. The board is comprised of attorneys, mayors, teachers and business people from the community who collectively work together to establish hospital policy and address issues concerning the entire PVHMC community. Steve is a firm believer in volunteerism.

“Volunteers dramatically increase our ability to provide services to those in need. From the smallest deeds to the largest, volunteers make a huge difference,” says Steve. And there is no question that PVHMC’s volunteers make a huge difference every day.

“The very essence of nearly 1,000 community members giving nearly 150,000 hours annually of their precious, personal time says a lot about this Hospital’s importance to our community. We make a difference, and it is through the hundreds of volunteers and their leadership that we continue to make a difference,” President and CEO of PVHMC Richard Yochum says.

As a 100 Top Hospital, PVHMC continues to garner national awards each year, including the 2009 Outstanding Patient Experience Award (OPEA) and the Maternity Care Excellence Award from HealthGrades, the country’s leading independent healthcare ratings organization. In addition, Consumer Reports Magazine ranked PVHMC in 2009 as the fourth-highest rated hospital in the Los Angeles Country area.

Since its modest inception, the Pomona Valley family has grown to a staff of more than 650 physicians and 3,200 employees. But perhaps it is the near 1,000 volunteers, one-third of the entire hospital staff, who are responsible for the successes from which the PVHMC community benefits.

In 2008, volunteers gave 110,000 hours of free service, which amounts to $1,115,000 in savings to the hospital. Lindsey Medina, volunteer coordinator at PVHMC, says it would take 53 extra full-time employees to do the same amount of work that volunteers produce. But volunteers do much more than provide financial benefits. “Volunteers provide the human side of the hospital, the listening and emotional support,” Lindsey states. “They treat the well being of our patients.”

A sense of fulfillment

Lorene Connor has been volunteering at the hospital for 10 years. It was only after a family member battled with cancer that she decided she wanted to volunteer in The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center, where she has been serving the last four years. “You see happy people here,” Lorene says, walking around the serene atmosphere in the cancer center. Located off site, about half a mile from the main hospital, the cancer center provides a relaxing and tranquil environment complete with a therapeutic waterfall and motivating messages displayed along the walls.

By the look on her face, one can tell how proud Lorene is to be part of the center. “You get patients here who just want to talk, who just want you to listen, or maybe they just need a hug. Being available for these people gives me the ultimate feeling of fulfillment. It’s very rewarding,” Lorene says, trying to hold back tears. “I could not do my job with out volunteers,” Martha Osborne shares, a nurse who works in the cancer center with Lorene. “I call them the healers because they heal the spirits of our patients.”

The cancer center has always been close to the hearts of volunteers. In 1998 the Auxiliary Department, completely run by volunteers, donated $1,000,000 of raised funds to assist the newly developed Cancer Center. The Auxiliary is a not-for-profit organization established by volunteers who serve the hospital and its patients. Since 1937, volunteers have participated in fund raising activities for the hospital’s most vulnerable patients, sick babies, whose families cannot afford to pay their medical expenses. Additionally, the Auxiliary donates funds left over at the end of the year to help pay for new hospital equipment.

Former Auxiliary President, Nancy Zunde, a breast cancer survivor, has been volunteering for 10 years. Nancy not only received treatment for breast cancer at the hospital in 1989, but her late husband was treated for throat cancer, open heart surgery and pancreatic cancer, which took his life in 1998. Since his passing, Nancy has been giving back to the hospital in appreciation of the care she and her husband received in the past. She has served two terms as Auxiliary President. Presently, she serves in the volunteer office, drives the volunteer shuttle and substitutes in the surgery waiting room. “My goal here is to serve others with excellence,” Nancy modestly proclaims.

It takes a big-hearted character like hers with a desire to serve others to make a great volunteer. But, at PVHMC, it is nearly the standard.

The chosen few

The hospital does not pick up just anyone off the street to come and volunteer. “We want to make sure people who volunteer have the right motivation. We look for the right person who we know will make a great volunteer,” Lindsey says.

La Verne resident Omega Neely drives the associate shuttle from the hospital to the cancer center. After getting her pacemaker checked at the hospital in 2008, she noticed a sign asking for volunteers. “Now that I was retired, I wanted to find something to do rather than just sit at home and vegetate,” Neely explains with a hearty laugh as she navigates through the associate parking lot. Like Omega, many volunteers have practical reasons for donating their time, such as simply wanting to keep busy. However, there are also those individuals who, for some reason or another, decide it is their calling to take on some of the most delicate of life situations.

Maxine May is a volunteer chaplain who often deals with end-of-life situations. “The majority of my work is speaking with patients who are terminally ill and families who are gathered around a loved one who is about to be taken off life support,” Maxine explains. A job that would take a toll on one volunteer is for another a rewarding experience. “When things look hopeless, I want to show people how to find hope again. I find my work very rewarding,” she affirms.

But every once in a while she comes across a situation that hits close to home. “I recently dealt with a lady my age with severe nerve damage and little use of her arms and legs. Her story impacted me because she had no family and said she was going to have to take care of herself,” Maxine recounts. She eventually helped her discover all her options.

“Our volunteers are good people. Just being themselves and by simply telling others in the community they volunteer at PVHMC gives the hospital a good name,” Lindsey says. And, in return, the hospital takes good care of its volunteers, treating them as equal to other paid associates.

Lindsey explains that volunteers are referred to as associates because they have the same requirements as the rest of the staff. Volunteers go through the same basic orientation and training; they have to learn all the hospital emergency codes, they all have to comply with their schedules, and all are summoned to work and serve others.

On the perk side, volunteers are offered the same hospital privileges that regular staff members benefit from, including recognition luncheons, discounts to the cafeteria and discounts to theme parks.

Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center is one out of only a handful of hospitals that has remained independently sustained and not-for-profit. In its continuing efforts to meet the needs of the community, it has recently opened up Pomona Valley Health Center at Claremont, which features an urgent care center, family medicine, sleep disorders center, digital imaging center, occupational health services and a physical therapy and rehabilitation center.

Indeed, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center’s commitment to the community takes a great effort, but a large part of that effort comes from those happy associates dressed in purple like Ruth, Lorene, Nancy, Omega and Maxine, who some call helpers and others call heroes.

“I’m no hero. Just a comfort,” insists Lorene.

To become a volunteer, contact the PVHMC Volunteer Department at 909-865-9669.

Big scanning machinery and big hearts are the prescription for healing at the Robert and  Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center at PVHMC. Lorene Connor has been volunteering at the hospital for 10 years and at the Cancer Center for four. / photo by Courtney Droke

Big scanning machinery and big hearts are the prescription for healing at the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center at PVHMC. Lorene Connor has been volunteering at the hospital for 10 years and at the Cancer Center for four. / photo by Courtney Droke

Correction
In the Winter 2010 issue, Ruth Mickel’s last name was inadvertently misspelled in the story ”Volunteers help heal at Pomona Valley Hospital.” Ruth Mickel is the longest running volunteer at Pomona Valley Hospital, having started in 1968. She is a resident of Hillcrest Homes in La Verne.

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