With their bright red jackets and warm smiles, the volunteers of the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary are a familiar sight at Chilliwack General Hospital.
But it might be what they do behind the scenes that has an even bigger impact.
For more than a hundred years the volunteers who make up the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary have been in integral part of local health care delivery. With a simple mandate to provide for the “care and comfort of patients,” the organization was formed even before Chilliwack’s first hospital was built. Indeed, its first fundraising effort – the Feast of Nations – raised $1,600 and witnessed the laying of a cornerstone that would mark construction of the city’s first health care facility.
Since then, the auxiliary has raised more than $5 million.
This year alone it has donated $100,000 that has gone towards the purchase of important medical equipment.
It’s done this with a core group of about 60 volunteers.
But that number is dropping, says auxiliary president Karen Houlden, and new volunteers are always welcome.
Mary Isaak only joined the auxiliary a few months ago.
“I just came to visit somebody one day and I thought, ‘This is the place I should be.’”
Having worked in a hospital setting before her retirement, she appreciates the opportunity to help others.
“It’s empowering,” she says. “You feel good, and you do good.”
Alice Lackey knows that feeling. The retired nurse has volunteered with auxiliaries, first on the Sunshine Coast, and for the past nine years in Chilliwack, since 1993.
She has the easy confidence that reflects her years at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. That experience has taught her the value of a friendly face and a willing ear in the sometimes unnerving setting of a hospital.
Throughout the week auxiliary volunteers staff the information desk – often the first point of contact for patients, family and friends as they enter the hospital. The volunteers answer questions, provide directions, or simply listen to concerns.
“Some people just want to talk,” says Lackey.
That’s not the only place you’ll find them. They also volunteer in the ambulatory care department, staff the “Shopping Cart” that patrols the hospital floors, or work in the little store that sells hand-knitted goods.
The volunteers also work at Heritage Village. But one of the biggest responsibilities is the operation of the Auxiliary Thrift Shoppe on Main Street.
The store, which is open five days a week, is completely staffed by Auxiliary volunteers. Profits from goods the shop sells provide the money used to buy the medical equipment CGH needs.
This year alone, the Auxiliary has purchased six pieces of equipment with a combined price tag of more than $100,000.
Connie Meskas is site director for Chilliwack General Hospital. She says the work done by the auxiliary and the Hospital Service League (which functions similarly to the auxiliary) is “invaluable.”
Each year CGH creates a “wish list” of equipment that medical staff says is important to providing better medical care.
Items on the list often provide more depth, better backup, and greater patient care at CGH.
The purchase of a transport defibrillator – with a price tag of $32,000 – provides a second unit to Chilliwack’s new and expanded emergency department. That means that when one unit is accompanying a critically ill patient to another hospital for a higher level of care, as second unit is still available here.
Says Meskas: “This is huge for us. Huge.”
Another piece of equipment, a portable ultrasound unit ($45,000), gives medical staff the ability to provide quick diagnostic imaging for something like an internal injury right in the ER. That provides more comfort for the patient and doesn’t tie up staff transporting the patient to another department, Meskas says.
Other equipment purchased by the auxiliary this year include a vascular imaging device ($16,000), a blood pressure monitor for Heritage Village ($3,000), a biopsy imaging device ($2,060), and a network camera for the lab ($2,000).
But the impact the volunteers provide goes beyond the material, Meskas says. Their personal touch and ability to make patients, family and staff feel a bit more at home in a hospital setting is equally important.
“It would be a different place without them,” she says.
Houlden is encouraging others to learn more about the Auxiliary. Brochures and application forms are available at the information desk at CGH, or at the Thrift Shoppe. Information is also available on the group’s website (chilliwackhospitalauxiliary.wordpress.com).
For Isaak, there’s no doubt about the valuable role the auxiliary plays.
“I would encourage anyone who wants to meet people and help others to join.”
Adds Lackey with a laugh: “We’ll take anybody we can get.”