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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Our Unsung Heroes

Posted By: Advancing Care

Those who have time to give will find a rewarding experience as a WMCHealth volunteer.


It’s not just the clinicians, administrators, staff or technology within a hospital that makes it run smoothly and successfully. There’s another group that plays just as important a part in its success: the heroes known as volunteers.

“They provide excellent skills, helping hands, listening ears and an open heart to our staff, patients and patients’ families,” says Tara J. Marquis, Manager of Volunteer Services at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).

Enthusiastic, passionate, devoted, determined, energetic, empathetic and helpful… those are just some of the words used to describe volunteers, by the appreciative volunteer coordinators at the hospitals within WMCHealth.


Good Samaritan Hospital volunteers (from front to back) Carole Green, Betty LaBarbera and Maureen Jackson.

Whether you’re a high-school junior curious about a career in medicine or a retiree with plenty left to give, the hospitals and other facilities at WMCHealth provide innumerable opportunities for volunteers. There’s a fit for every personality, whether it’s in the adrenalin-pumping action of the emergency department, at the bedside of a premature infant in need of cuddling. The list is virtually endless, as are the needs.

Hours for volunteers are flexible (with the exception of summer programs or high-school students’ community service), but most hospitals like to know that their volunteers can commit to approximately 100 hours over the course of a year, or about four hours per week.

Here, we give you the lowdown on what it takes to be a volunteer.

The interview process

Volunteer coordinators work to learn about each applicant during the interview process, “which can be lengthy and detailed,” according to Penelope Mann, System Director of Volunteers, Guest Services for Bon Secours Charity Health System (Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis, and St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick). Volunteers are fully vetted before starting, she says. Potential volunteers’ qualifications are assessed before moving them along in the process to ensure that they are the right fit.

“We discuss things like their backgrounds, interests and what they hope to get out of volunteering,” says Latisha Balogh-Robinson, Director of Volunteer and Guest Services at the MidHudson Regional Hospital (MHRH). Once the candidate is determined a good fit, she says, a background check is conducted and and an employee health physical is administered. They must be up-to-date on their immunizations and have a yearly PPD test to screen for tuberculosis and provide letters of reference. The entire process can take upwards of two weeks.

Placement is based on many factors, including the person’s interests, disposition, skill set, experience and, of course, the needs of the department within the hospital. Volunteer coordinators try to honor placement requests, but in some cases that department is full (or there is a waiting list), and they might be placed elsewhere. “I always give volunteers the opportunity to change assignments should they decide they want to try something different,” says Balogh-Robinson.

Photo by Michael Polito

Mailroom volunteer Mike Moran at MidHudson Regional Hospital.


Open houses

Mann reports that although the hospital accepts applications throughout the year (“We get between 500 and 600 each year”), she also runs two interview open houses — one in early spring and the other in the middle of June, which serve mainly to fill positions for junior volunteers and college students during the spring and summer months.

Summer programs

Westchester Medical Center and Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital run a special summer program, to give high-school students an opportunity to hone their social/customer-service skills by working as “greeters” in the main lobbies. “Students have to be 16 years old and commit to 120 hours of service between June and August. We usually place college students in the Family Support Program, where they attend to the family’s needs in the waiting areas, like being a liaison in the surgical waiting area or by escorting them throughout the hospital and answering general questions,” says Marquis.

Helping children in need

Tricia Hiller, the Director of Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, says that being in the hospital can be particularly frightening for children, “who often feel that they’ve lost control and the power to make any choices in their lives.” Volunteers, she says, give them back that ability. “They can ask, ‘Would you like to play Candy Land?’ And the child can decide yes or no.” Hiller also places volunteers in the playroom, where they can assist with activities such as arts and crafts, games and play sessions, and take children for rides in strollers or wagons. Volunteers also get the opportunity to help with bedside activities or deliver arts and crafts or DVDs directly to the patient’s bedside, often staying to keep the child company and assist in projects.

Surgical waiting room volunteers Kimberly Spiridigliozzi (left) and Meredith Stevens (right) at Westchester Medical Center with cardiothoracic surgeon Gilbert Tang, MD.

Always laundry to be done

Mary Delaney, Director of Family Support at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, says that the Family Laundry Room, which is staffed by volunteers who wash clothing for families whose children are in the hospital, is one very special place. The mother of a 2-year-old boy battling cancer told her that spending time in the laundry room was the highlight of her day. It gives parents, many of whom stay at the hospital 24/7, a chance to chat with another adult discussing something other than illness. It returns them to the ‘normal’ world, if only for a short while.” The role of a volunteer as a nonjudgmental listener, Delaney says, “has a monumental impact in normalizing the family members’ experiences and helps them cope with situations beyond their control.”

Something for everyone

Volunteers not only help support the hospital community, they often form their own support network. When one volunteer of 20-plus years recently experienced the death of her spouse, a group of fellow volunteers came together to make sure she wasn’t alone by being there and listening. “She told me how much it meant to her to have us all in her life,” recalls Mann. “At his wake, she hugged each and every one of us and said she could never truly express her gratitude.”

“The generosity of volunteers is wonderful,” says Latisha Balogh-Robinson. “They show up every day. Some take taxis or stand out in the cold, waiting for buses, just to volunteer. I don’t take our volunteers for granted for one second. More people need to look around and see the value of volunteering for their communities and businesses, which would not be the same without these special people.”

Volunteer opportunites at WMCHealth

For more information about volunteering, contact:

Westchester Medical Center 914-493-7850
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital 914-493-7850
MidHudson Regional Hospital 845-431-8130
Good Samaritan Hospital 845-368-5482
St. Anthony Community Hospital 845-987-5050
Bon Secours Community Hospital 845-858-7162


Good Samaritan Volunteers Photo by Benjamin Cotten; Mailroom Volunteer Photo by Michael Polito; Surgical Waiting Room Photo by Ken Gabrielsen