Friends of Strong Exude Passion and Add Value to the Patient Experience
Only a few weeks shy of an early retirement, Bud Wesley, was in an ICU waiting room with no one to talk to. His mother was a patient and he found comradery with the families of other patients who were on the same floor—many of which shared the sentiment that they wished there were hospital staff that could be there to help them navigate their circumstances and pass the time.
It was then that Bud decided to fulfil those very wishes. Not having any firm plans of what to do with his newly earned time, he soon became a Friends of Strong volunteer, offering just the services he and those other families had wished were available while they were sitting in the waiting room.
Today, at 74, Bud discharges patients in the mornings, after which he brings a coffee cart up to the Intensive Care units to provide comfort to families who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Two days a week for the past 21 years—nearly 14,000 hours—he’s been traveling from his home in Bristol to provide an open ear to those who need it most.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to make things a little easier for families who are especially under stress or facing hard things,” he says. “I guess I maybe have that grandfatherly thing. Sometimes it’s just to listen, sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes it’s to break up family feuds.”
Compassionate Volunteers Create Value Throughout URMC
Bud’s not alone. Each year, more than 1,500 Friends of Strong volunteers give their compassion, care, and time to our patients and their families—resulting in a total of nearly 130,000 hours-served. There are approximately 100 volunteers on-site on any given day at SMH. That’s not including those who regularly volunteer at affiliate locations, like Strong West, where 19 volunteers regularly serve.
They are volunteers in the truest sense. They aren’t paid, and they travel from throughout western New York and the Finger Lakes to come here. Betty McClenney, 81, who lives in Caledonia, has been volunteering for the past ten years. A retired elementary school teacher, she says the most rewarding part is having a person say how thankful and appreciative they are for her being there to help. “That’s what makes me feel good,” she says.
Friends of Strong volunteers enhance patient and family centered care initiatives in a variety of ways—providing snacks and comfort items to cancer patients, assisting with rounding, providing updates on wait-times, talking with families awaiting word on a loved one, or generally having an open ear for patients or families who just need to talk. “Volunteers can and should be thought of as an extra set of hands for staff, providing the ability to give a personal touch on very busy units or departments,” says Sandy Arbasak, director of Friends of Strong.
Strong’s volunteers provide supplementary functions, not normally provided by paid staff. They undergo much of the same rigorous training and follow all of the mandatory procedures employees adhere to, including a core emphasis on our ICARE values. They enrich PFCC initiatives in the units and departments they serve by helping add extra details that contribute to each patient’s healing regimen.
It’s common to find volunteers assisting in the ED, or in Patient Discharge, producing a positive and lasting impression of their care at the hospital. “The many volunteers in our department are kind, motivated, and generous,” says Mary Pat Callahan, who works with our Ambassadors, Communications Center, Social Work, and Patient and Family Services. “I consider all of them to be superstars!”
Chris Tryon, BS CCLS, NICU Child Life Specialist similarly sees the value of having volunteers on a daily basis. “Our NICU and Newborn Nursery volunteers are invaluable—we consider them a part of our care team,” Chris says. “They are willing to do whatever it takes to help us ensure we provide the most developmentally supportive, family-centered care possible for our patients and their families.”
Empowering Continued Commitment to Community
To volunteers, the program provides a sense of community and belonging. Mary Innes Wagner, 70, calls herself a professional volunteer, having made volunteering a lifelong commitment. She loves the interaction and intellectual stimulation. “It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to give back something,” she says. “To spend your time volunteering is one of the best gifts.”
Molly MacKenzie, 23, a UR student interested public health administration, serves as an ambassador at the Cancer Center and believes it’s a rewarding part of her day. “When I help a patient get to their appointment or find their doctor, it can put a smile on their face when they might not be having the best day,” she says. “It makes me feel good knowing I can help them have a better day in a tiny way.”
“Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the Friends of Strong organization. They give their time and talents to support and enhance the care we provide,” Sandy remarks. “Seeing them pass through our office on a daily basis is inspiring. They are all so eager to be part of what we do.”
In an increased effort to celebrate and instill a sense of pride and civic service across the U.S., one week each April is recognized as National Volunteer Week.
“Friends of Strong prepares for this week to thank all of these people who give their time and energy to making UR Medicine a better place,” Sandy says. “When you see someone with a maroon smock escorting patients, delivering flowers, assisting in our shops and helping on units, please give them an extra ‘thank you.’ They deserve it!”
How You Can Help
Spread the word, donate, or take advantage of opportunities to help organize a Friends of Strong fundraising event. Tell your friends, family and coworkers about the Friends of Strong volunteer program and how it supports the URMC and SMH missions. For more information or to make your contribution to the Friends of Strong volunteer program, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteers originally began serving in the hospital’s Patient Library and Surgical Dressing Program in 1926—the Department of Volunteer Services was established in 1946. In 1975, a small group of fundraising volunteers merged with the Department of Volunteer Services to form the Friends of Strong at Strong Memorial Hospital, which continues to serve our needs today.
Matt Ulakovic |