Story by Andrea Martin
Volunteer Nicole Meurs travels back in time and across continents — without ever leaving Chinook Regional Hospital.
The magic happens through her conversations with the elderly patients she visits, especially those facing longer hospital stays who appreciate her conversation and companionship to lift their spirits and pass the time.
“One patient I visited was wearing a beautiful series of rings, so I asked her about them,” says Meurs.
“She told me the most incredible story about how she met her husband in the Netherlands. (But) then she immigrated to Canada and nearly married another man — before reuniting with her husband. When he heard that she’d broken off her engagement, he travelled across the North Atlantic by boat and the Canadian prairies by train, to be with her. They spent the next 70 years together.”
During a typical volunteer shift, Meurs chats, plays cards and even colours with patients. To break the ice, Meurs will often ask about their lives, former careers or even life on the farm in southern Alberta.
“One of my patients explained to me — from start to finish — the sugar-beet-harvesting process, from when he used to pick sugar beets by hand as a boy,” adds Meurs.
According to Volunteer Resources program assistant Michelle Robertson, Chinook’s volunteer visitor program began in 2015 as a joint initiative — with frontline teams in the hospital’s medical, surgical and geriatric units — to improve the quality of life for patients who see few, if any, visitors.
“We looked at how we could support elderly patients who don’t have close friends or family living in the community — recognizing the road back to health also involves providing social and emotional support,” says Robertson.
To get the program off the ground, Volunteer Resources worked with frontline leaders and staff to gather feedback on patient needs, and then to recruit and train volunteers for the best fit.
For Diane Shanks, Director of Emergency, Critical Care, Medicine and Cardio respiratory, volunteers play a crucial role in quality patient care.
“We’ve developed various processes to identify patients who may benefit from a visit, as well as determine the best time, to ensure there’s no conflict with medical tests or physician visits," says Shanks. “This information is then shared with our volunteer visitors so we can connect them with the right people and help coordinate their visit.”
“Some volunteer visitors have even uncovered important information that has helped frontline staff better focus on patient needs,” adds Shanks. “It’s important that we take a holistic approach to care, which includes opportunities to connect with others.”
To honour those who forge these friendly connections as they give of themselves, National Volunteer Week runs April 23-29. People who wish to share their thanks or appreciation of AHS volunteers can do so in person, or leave them a note at thanksforcaring.ca.