As volunteers at MountainView Hospital prepare for the holiday season, one says that it can be a difficult time of year because patients are typically more upset than usual about being stuck in a hospital bed, particularly on a holiday.
Dena Dzierbicki, director of volunteer services at the hospital, said that while the facility's volunteers are never required to work on a holiday, some will do so because they would rather be helping people than spending the day alone.
Dzierbicki oversees 158 active volunteers, ranging from teenagers to seniors, who work in 25 areas of the hospital. The volunteers have donated a total of more than 35,000 hours .
Some of the departments they assist are the emergency room, the front desk, inpatient and outpatient surgery, patient care units, the nursery and the warehouse.
Over time, volunteers find a favorite position.
The front desk is run by volunteers, which is where Geraldine Kikendall works twice a week.
Kikendall, 92, moved from California 17 years ago and was looking for something to keep her busy, so she turned to the hospital to volunteer. She has put in more than 6,600 hours and said she enjoys it because she gets to spend time talking with people.
"We do everything that nobody else wants to do, anything that's needed," she said.
Before lending a hand at MountainView, she was a real estate agent and had never volunteered in a hospital. She said sometimes people who come in are in bad moods and can be difficult to work with, but she enjoys trying to make their day a little bit better any way she can.
"I think you get more out of it than you put into it," Kikendall said. " It makes me feel like I'm helping, like I'm doing something worthwhile."
Volunteers work between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day, Dzierbicki said. She said she meets with them to find the right place for them. Dzierbicki advises people who recently lost a family member to avoid direct contact with sick patients for their emotional well-being.
She credits her large program of volunteers to location. Situated between Summerlin and Centennial Hills, the hospital draws a lot of retirees. Dzierbicki said 140 of her volunteers are retirees from nearby. She also has college students volunteer to explore their interests in medicine and boost their resumes.
She said she has a skeleton crew of about 75 percent of her normal volunteers during the holidays.
"I'm very protective of this program because all it takes is one mishap to ruin the whole program," Dzierbicki said.
Some get involved to give back to a community that helped them.
Ira Shapiro, 73, has volunteered for seven years. He was inspired to help after he underwent surgery seven years ago at University Medical Center and noticed the work of the volunteers. He wanted to give back. He sorts mail and fills the magazine and book racks at MountainView.
"People here, they're not here because they want to be," he said. "They're not here because they're on a vacation, they're not happy."
So he tries to lighten their mood by "throwing a little humor their way."
Shapiro, who sports a "Don't Yell At Me, I'm A Volunteer" button, said it can be a challenge not to say the wrong thing to a patient.
"You might be in a good mood but the patient is not, so you need to make sure you don't say something out of context," he said.
Sonny Sipenock has been with the hospital 14 years and has volunteered 11,600 hours. She, too, moved from California and was looking for something to do.
She works at the front desk directing people where to go and she said she enjoys connecting with people in need. She had cancer in 2008 and said she recalls comforting a woman with the same cancer she had.
"People that have it - I can relate to it," Sipenock said. "Some people will say, 'I know how you feel,' but you can't until you have it."
Steve Venghaus has volunteered on and off for five years and he said he assists the triage nurses however he can. He greets people when they arrive, assists visitors with finding patients and comforts them while they wait. He also alerts a nurse immediately if anyone in the waiting room complains of chest pain.
"Every day I feel really good when I leave here," Venghaus said. "I'm helping people on the worst day of their life to make them feel a little more comfortable, and I feel good about it."
He retired 10 years ago and said he enjoys helping and has made many friends through the program and with the nurses and doctors he works alongside. If he could do it all over again, he said he would have gone into medicine instead of trucking. He jokes that volunteering also helps keep him out of the casinos.
Volunteering in the emergency room means Rudy Schneiter, 75, has to resmember his place. Schneiter, who was a firefighter and paramedic in Illinois, has been with the hospital for eight years and tries to comfort and reassure patients and visitors.
Helen Sheehan volunteers in the surgical waiting room and H2U office and has been with the hospital for 10 years. Sheehan, who volunteers with her husband, agreed that volunteering keeps her out of the casinos and adds purpose to her life. She said that because she greets people about to undergo surgeries, they are often nervous and sometimes difficult to console. She remembered one young man who was frustrated that he could not go back to a restricted area to see his mother after her surgery, and Sheehan said she had a difficult time communicating with him.
Volunteers are always supported by staff members and security.
To become a volunteer, one must fill out an application and attend an interview; commit to one four-hour shift per week for at least six months or 100 hours; get a two-step tuberculosis skin test; submit to a criminal background check; attend orientation; and wear a volunteer uniform and name badge on duty.
For more information about volunteering, contact Dzierbicki at 702-255-5079 or dena.dzierbicki@hcahealth care.com.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.