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Patient relations volunteers offer comfort

Charity: Committed helpers at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital improve patient experience

Posted: March 27, 2010 5:48 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Patient relations volunteers Estelle Hoffman, 2010 auxiliary president, Julie Cobb, Sharon Gayle and Mike Nygren visit patients throughout Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital offering a pillow, a magazine or a simple conversation.

When you’re hospitalized, it’s often the little things that can make a big difference.

Identifying the little things to make patients more comfortable is the focus of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s patient relations volunteer program.

Since August 2005, this trained corps of dedicated volunteers has visited patients throughout the hospital offering a pillow, a magazine, or a simple conversation.

“When you’re on your back in a hospital bed, time passes slowly,” said patient relations volunteer Sharon Gayle of Newhall. “We want to let patients know that beyond the clinical staff, there are other people at the hospital to make sure their needs are being take care of.”

Outfitted in special wine colored jackets, white pants, and white shoes, the patient relations volunteers make their rounds daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the exception of the women’s and intensive care units.

They knock on doors before entering, ask for the patient by name, and introduce themselves and explain the reason for their visit.

“I’m here to find out if there is anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable,” is a typical introduction.

The volunteers then inquire if the patient has what they need within reach, whether they have completed their menu for the day, if they would be interested in receiving reading material or additional toiletries, or if they need assistance with their television/patient station monitors.

“The fact that someone comes in there and talks to them and asks for recommendations on how we can serve them better has been very well received,” Gayle said.

Follow-up visits can be made at the patient’s request and are posted on a bulletin board, which the volunteers check before their shift.

According to Maria Strmsek, Newhall Memorial’s director of volunteer services, the patient relations volunteers are handpicked due to their specific skill sets.

“Excellent customer service skills are necessary to foster positive interpersonal relationships, to communicate effectively, and to be non-judgmental in all situations,” Strmsek said. “Several of the volunteers who began the program with us were also hospice-trained to be sensitive to the terminally ill patients and they have brought that experience to the program.”

For volunteer Michael Nygren of Stevenson Ranch, who’s been with the program for several months, it’s an opportunity to repay the kindness shown to his family during hospitalization stays.

“I’ve been there with my own mom and dad and saw what a difference a volunteer can make,” Nygren said. “I am happy to contribute.”

Nygren, a former business manager with the Los Angeles Dodgers, volunteers once a week and finds that the experience is as beneficial for him as the patients he visits.

“You feel good when you leave,” he said. “When you see a little smile or a change of attitude in someone, you know you added a little ray of sunshine during an otherwise trying time in their lives.”

For more information on the Patient Relations Volunteer Program at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, contact (661) 253-8051 or visit


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