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El Camino Hospital Salutes Its Volunteers

Mountain View, CA - April 19, 2012 - More than 1400 El Camino Hospital volunteers have logged well over 100,000 hours this fiscal year, adding to the more than 5 million total hours milestone they reached early last year.

"This week as we celebrate National Volunteer Week, we want our extraordinary volunteers to know just how valuable and appreciated they are," says El Camino Hospital CEO Tomi Ryba. "While we appreciate the skills and dedication of our extraordinary paid workforce, our volunteers help make it possible to deliver not just superior care, but superior caring."

At not-for-profit El Camino Hospital, caring volunteers perform tasks ranging from programming a database to providing patients and families with spiritual support, comfort and grief counseling; from providing directions to hospital visitors to helping staff the Health Library and Resource Center; from providing transportation for seniors and disabled members of the community to providing nonmedical services in departments such as Behavioral Health, Maternity and Emergency and Surgery. They make handicrafts as gifts for babies and other patients and provide vital fundraising projects to support in-hospital services. But most importantly, they provide a cheerful, human touch to thousands of patients when they need it the most.

Volunteers often are described as "priceless," but a 2011 study showed just how important they can be to an organization's bottom line. In fact El Camino Hospital volunteers' contributions of time for just the first eight months of this fiscal year are estimated at well over $2 million! In total, volunteers have contributed time worth nearly $120 million since El Camino Hospital was founded.

Organized in 1957 and incorporated in 1958, the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary includes both adults and teens (14 to 18), all of whom go through a formal application and screening process including an interview. Adults must make a six-month, 12 hours-a-month commitment to the program. Volunteers comprise an extraordinary and eclectic mix—much like the communities the hospital serves.

One example is Helen Gaetano, a 46-year veteran of the Los Gatos campus who has donated nearly 19,000 hours at the Information Desk and more recently, in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). As a PACU volunteer, Helen ensures that the unit is stocked with pillows and warm blankets, delivers patient charts and answers multiple phone lines—all tasks that she sees as a way to lighten the load of the hospital's busy nurses.

Then there's Palo Alto resident Larry Ettling, chairman of the hospital auxiliary's Java Junction, also known as the coffee cart, located on the Mountain View campus. Ettling has rotated through a variety of roles, from chairing the cashiers at the former snack bar to serving as an emergency department greeter and working on the shuttle. But his commitment to volunteerism started much earlier, when he joined the Sea Scouts, a Boy Scout program for teens. El Camino Hospital has been a fortunate beneficiary of his talents for the past five years.

Not all volunteers work in the hospital. Instead, they are providing vital support services such as Road Runners, (door-to-door transport for seniors and others who need assistance getting to healthcare related appointments, activities at local Senior Centers, and everyday outings to the market, the bank, or the salon.) Mountain View resident Bill Neel, Road Runners co-chairman, has been transporting clients for nearly ten years as a volunteer driver. Several of his regular clients have become friends with whom he can share a chuckle or reminiscence about, for example, old radio soap operas.

Then there's Linda Heider, Auxiliary Director of Recruitment and Placement at El Camino Hospital and an Auxiliary volunteer since 2001. Heider has donated nearly 13,000 hours to the hospital, including serving as Auxiliary president for three terms, the first two from 2005-07 and the third from 2009-10. As Director of Recruitment and Placement, the Sunnyvale resident works with the hospital and service directors to assess the hospital's needs in order to plan for recruitment. After the new main hospital opened, she identified a need for 300 new Auxiliary volunteers--and has helped recruit them, working to develop a recruitment plan that has included ads in newspapers and a "tell-a-friend" campaign to fellow volunteers.

Among her many interests, Heider is passionate about genomic medicine, and has been deeply involved with the hospital's Genomic Medicine Institute. Having worked for a researcher in Multiple Sclerosis at UCSF, she's interested in how genomics will transform medicine in the future. She even has volunteered for a clinical trial at El Camino involving the use of a genetic test. 

"The intrinsic satisfaction of volunteering lies in contributing to the well being of one's community and to those who may need assistance," Heider says. "It's no secret that volunteers get more out of it than we give; studies show that volunteers experience a renewed sense of purpose, improved health and well being, and the feeling of being needed and making a difference."

Heider believes volunteering at the hospital is more critical now than ever before. "What we accomplish now is noteworthy, but I believe we are willing and capable of much more," she says. "The challenges presented by health care reform have made it clear just how vital the roles of volunteers will be in helping our community sustainably meet its health care needs. It's both exciting and a privilege to know we'll be part of this major transition."