Volunteers are often the first to welcome patients and visitors to Northwell Health. They serve in highly visible locations, like a hospital lobby’s information desk, admitting office and surgical waiting room, giving patients and visitors a sense of comfort and familiarity.
“A volunteer’s warm greeting and offer to help can help set the tone for a hospital visit,” said Denice Romero, chief volunteer officer at LIJ Medical Center and volunteer candidate screener for the Zucker Hillside Hospital. She added that volunteers can be ambassadors and advocates, referring family and friends to Northwell services and recruiting other volunteers.
“The friendly face of a volunteer can smooth out an entire hospital visit,” said Myra Cohen, Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Valley Stream’s director of volunteer services. “When a patient or visitor recognizes a volunteer, it helps alleviate anxiety.” Diane Keenan, a volunteer at LIJ Valley Stream for 20 years, is well-known throughout her area. During 45 years of living in Valley Stream, she has participated in many high-profile community activities with her husband, Bob.
“We naturally made many friends along the way, and many have come to LIJ Valley Stream as patients or visitors,” Ms. Keenan said. “It is always a pleasure to greet them and catch up.”
Similarly, Plainview Hospital volunteer Bill Bullwinkel said he recently “bumped into two guys from grammar school” for the first time in about 50 years. One of them was a patient, the other a visitor.
Surprise encounters are just part of what Mr. Bullwinkel enjoys about volunteering. “I absolutely love it,” he said. “I have a pension. I’m on Social Security. I have enough to get by. I do it for the love of the job.” He added: “If I were born rich, I would have done this my whole life. It’s really a privilege and a blessing.”
Mr. Bullwinkel goes above and beyond, taking on a lot of responsibility like preparing complex charts and running errands for nursing units, said Laurie Kirschner, director of volunteer services at Plainview and Syosset hospitals. That’s when he’s not focusing on his primary role of escorting patients and their companions to appointments for ambulatory infusion or interventional radiology.
Mr. Bullwinkel minds the mannerisms of patients and family members and, when he sees signs of anxiety, reassures them. “You have to really get a read on people,” Mr. Bullwinkel said. “Some people will joke around with you, others are kind of quiet and subdued. So you play it by ear.”
Such well-timed TLC can make all the difference. “We can always count on Bill to smile and make sure each patient is being attended to,” said Lisa Bombardiere, director of access services at Plainview and Syosset. “Patients are always at ease when Bill is here, treating each of them like family.”
As a greeter and escort at the Zucker Hillside Hospital, David Leshinsky welcomes patients and visitors at the facility’s main entrance. “Many of the people I encounter are here for the first time. They may have heard things about psychiatric hospitals that make them uncomfortable,” said Mr. Leshinsky. “I try to make everyone feel welcome by being friendly and conversing freely. I sometimes introduce myself and say ‘hello’ often.”
He answers the phone, signs visitors in, gives directions and brings patients to their destinations.
While Mr. Leshinsky covers the hospital’s main entrance, other volunteers welcome patients and visitors at Zucker Hillside’s adult and geriatric clinics, fostering a customer-friendly atmosphere, said Evan Feuer, program manager of supported employment services at Zucker Hillside. He added, “David also helps to deliver newspapers to hospital units. It’s a welcome diversion that helps to give patients a more comfortable stay.”
In LIJ Valley Stream’s surgical waiting room, Ms. Keenan’s personalized attention helps calm visitors’ concerns. She welcomes visitors, offers refreshments, provides updates on their loved ones and informs them when the patient is ready to see them in the recovery area.
“She is a very special person,” Ms. Cohen said. “I don’t know what I would do without her.” No doubt, patients and visitors touched by Northwell volunteers feel the same way.