LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – It has been almost 400 days since UK HealthCare hospitals and clinics have had volunteers for in person work.
A year ago, their presence was ubiquitous; they would greet visitors in the hospital gift shops, deliver mail and flowers to patients and help families in surgery waiting rooms. The animal-assisted therapy teams would make the rounds and give hospital staff some much-needed puppy cuddles. But that all came to a halt on March 17, 2020.
That began changing this week, according to the healthcare system.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Kentucky last year, the visitor restrictions implemented by UK HealthCare meant that hospital volunteers had to stay away as well. As a result, Katie Hantle, manager of volunteer services and her small staff found themselves doing the work of over a hundred people.
“We have been working in the gift shop and delivering mail and flowers to our patients,” said Hantle. “The Volunteer Services staff have really stepped it up this last year and we’re really excited to see our volunteers return.”
At a drive-thru welcome event this week, Hantle and her staff welcomed back the volunteers, who were just as happy to see them.
Maggie Metcalf and her certified therapy dog Toby were visiting patients once a week at Kentucky Children’s Hospital before the pandemic. Like many people, Maggie spent the past year working from home. But as she approaches retirement, she’s looking forward to spending more time at the hospital.
“I’m excited,” said Metcalf. “It’s been way too long. Toby is great with the kids and he really misses them.”
“Once a week for the past year, we’d get calls from our volunteers asking when they can come back,” said Hantle. “And we got calls from new people asking if they can volunteer. People are ready to get back to helping the community.
For other volunteers, spending time at the hospital is just as cathartic for them as it is for the patients and visitors they help.
Pam Light lost her husband to ALS and now volunteers with patients and families at the UK HealthCare ALS clinic.
“I’m very excited, I’ve missed this,” said Light. “It’s something I’ve really enjoyed and gives me the opportunity to serve others. The volunteer services administration works with people like me who want to serve in these specialized capacities.”
Light watched as staff enthusiastically greeted other volunteers as they rolled through to collect their gift bags that included a mask, hand sanitizer and a yard sign.
“This is such a unique outreach,” she said. “It really makes us feel special.”
While UK HealthCare is not currently accepting applications for new volunteers, there are other ways to get involved. The volunteer office has a wish list of much-needed items such as games, activity books and clothing. Please contact them for more information.