Volunteers offer county hospital a helping hand


July 28, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HICKORY RIDGE resident Lee Mandelbaum, 72, says she has been volunteering since she was old enough to work. Maybe that's why she has logged more hours as a volunteer at Howard County General Hospital than anyone else.

Mandelbaum works in the hospital medical library 700 to 800 hours a year. She also holds two paid positions at the hospital, working at the reception desk 12 hours a week and in the gift shop four hours a week.

"I've always been looking for ways to help people," she said.

Mandelbaum is one of the 441 volunteers who serve the hospital.

"Our volunteers saved the hospital $740,500 last year," said Barbara Swann, director of volunteer services. "They served 43,373 hours last year."

Not all volunteers work at the hospital. "We have in-service and community volunteers," Swann said.

Community volunteers work in projects such as the hospital's consignment shop, Rave Reviews, and the annual holiday gift wrap at the Mall in Columbia, Swann said. They can also work more closely with patients in areas such as the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Image Center and the survivor buddy program, through which breast cancer survivors team up with newly diagnosed patients to help them through the process.

In-service volunteers work in the hospital in 68 departments. Volunteers can work directly with the patients or in noncontact positions.

"I didn't want to work with patients because I thought I would get too emotionally involved," said Clary's Forest resident Carol Berg, 65, who has been helping with clerical work in the volunteer services department for 14 years.

"I had always done office work," said Berg who was a secretary to an insurance actuary before retiring. "When I started to cut back my paid working hours to three days a week to ease into retirement, I began volunteering."

Berg and two other retired volunteer office workers, Ruth Hampton of Dayton and Linda Lavin of east Columbia, have become affectionately known around the hospital as the "A- Team."

"Those three ladies tackle all the tedious jobs," said Swann, who is also their manager. "Department managers all over the hospital look for the A-Team. Sometimes they call and say they have a job that needs to be done and ask if I could send some volunteers over. They say the job will take two days to finish. Our A-Team goes in and finishes in two hours."

"We have become good friends," Berg said of the A-Team. "People hear us laughing together and can't believe we are working. It's a lot of fun."

Other volunteers work more closely with patients.

Hickory Ridge resident Robert Buchman has been volunteering 12 hours a week in the pediatric emergency room since March.

"I had my own stay in the hospital, and I was very impressed with to what degree people were helping other people. I wanted to do something to help someone else," said Buchman who is a full-time art supplies salesman. His job at the hospital includes transporting people to CT scans and radiation, cleaning up rooms and being there if someone needs to talk.

"I come home from the hospital feeling like I've accomplished more than I have in my other job," he said. "As you get older, the reward comes from helping others."

For another Hickory Ridge resident, Hank Mandelbaum - Lee Mandelbaum's husband - lending an ear is the scope of his volunteer position as a chaplaincy associate. This job required six months of training where most positions require a one- or two-day orientation.

"I visit a patient and open up a space to allow them to talk," said Mandelbaum, who was an engineer before retiring. "Sometimes people are anxious. Sometimes they want to talk about their relationships. I never judge anyone and never tell them what I think they should do. It's all about active listening."

"It's quite rewarding," he said. "Outside of the hospital, I am filled with my own problems. Then I speak with someone who is seriously ill and has a wonderful upbeat attitude. It's inspirational."

Volunteering helps people feel connected.

Delores James, a senior citizen living in Hickory Ridge Place, recently moved to Columbia to be near family.

"I wanted to help in some way and have meaningful input into society," said James, who works four days a week in the short-stay unit helping the nurses and in the gift shop Sundays. "I love the one-on-one contact and relating to people."

For high school student Jennifer Hackett of Harper's Choice, who will be a senior in the fall, volunteering in the hospital gift shop gave her valuable work experience that helped her get her first retail job at The Mall in Columbia. It also helped her decide that she might want to go into real estate in the future.

"I'm really good at selling," Hackett said. "I really like helping people choose what they need. I didn't know that before I started working in the gift shop."

And, of course, working in the hospital can provide invaluable insight into the medical profession.

"I'm thinking about being a surgeon," said high school student Peter Choe,17, of Hickory Ridge, who has been volunteering in the pediatric emergency room for a year and a half. "The hospital's a great place to get some experience and see what it would be like to be a doctor. It's also good to help others, and it feels good to know that we are helping to save the hospital money."

Information: Barbara Swann, director of volunteer services: 410-740-7980.

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