They come from various places and different backgrounds. They also work free. Summerlin Hospital relies on its volunteers — a force 250 strong — to help pick up the slack.
About 80 percent are women. They’re called Patient Ambassadors.
Their tasks are many: school tours, Teddy Bear clinics, community seminars, blood donation drives, flower deliveries, the book store, the information desk and Senior Advantage programs.
Jody Pelser is the manager of volunteer services at the hospital, 657 N. Town Center Drive. She said she’d like to have 300 volunteers.
“They’re a great value to our patients and families. They really enhance their experience as well as help our staff, ” Pelser said. “We’re able to tend to more people with non-medical needs at a given time because of our volunteers.”
View spoke with four women who have been volunteering at Summerlin Hospital for years, usually one morning a week.
Mickye Sedler, a transplant from Phoenix, came to Las Vegas to retire in 1997 and has been volunteering for 19 years, before the hospital opened. She was on site to help answer the phone and do filing even before the CEO arrived. She has put in 2,600 hours.
Sedler said she’s always done volunteer work — tutoring sixth-graders in math; working at a children’s hospital; working at a home for the elderly; and reading for the blind — so approaching the hospital was not out of the norm. She tried out different positions and one day found herself helping families whose loved one was having surgery.
“I’m a calming person, a patient person,” Sedler said. “I saw how I was (helping those people), and I went, ‘This is where I belong.’ ”
The volunteer program allows people to learn new skills, and they often become friends.
“There’s a real sense of camaraderie,” Sedler said.
The hours are flexible, and people can be there as much or as little as they like. They take off time to go visit family or for vacation. When they return, they pick back up where they were. Sedler said there was no hard part to the tasks volunteers do, but there are emotional moments.
“Sometimes a family will be crying,” she said, “and I’ll put my arm around them and ask if they want to pray, and I’ll escort them to the chapel.”
Rita Palovchak started in 1999, two years after retiring to Las Vegas from New Jersey.
Why did she decide to volunteer?
“My husband was a big golfer, and I was by myself a lot,” she said.
She moved from department to department to switch things up and now mans the front desk. She has clocked 3,500 hours.
“I like it there because there’s a wide variety of things that need to be done. We take the flowers to people. I interact with the staff and with patients, and I hassle the Edible Arrangements guy for samples,” she joked.
Shirley Calderone came to Las Vegas from Milwaukee by way of California and began volunteering at Summerlin Hospital in 2001.
“At first I was visiting the patients,” she said. “I really wanted to work in the nursery so I could see a lot of babies, but one day I was working food services (bringing meals), and there was this little old lady in bed, and she saw me and said, ‘An angel just walked into my room.’ … It took me aback and really seemed to make everything worthwhile. I always think of her and remember that.”
Calderone has 1,400 hours as a volunteer and now works with the Senior Advantage program, helping people understand what it offers and signing them up.
Sharon Wilk began in 1997 by helping in the emergency room and currently works on the fourth floor in oncology. She has logged 3,500 hours.
A patient gave her a yellow smiley face button with a red fuzz ball glued to its center. She wears it on her ID lanyard.
“People always remark on it. It brings a smile to their face,” she said.
Like Sedler, she found retirement boring. The need for hospital volunteers became clear to her soon after she and her husband, Richard, moved here 20 years ago from Chicago. Richard was diagnosed with leukemia and spent many days at Summerlin Hospital’s oncology unit. After his death, she asked to be moved to that department because she can “speak to how well Richard was taken care of” and reassure others in the same situation.
Working in a hospital means death is a distinct possibility. Calderone enjoyed talking with one female patient and was looking forward to visiting with her again. But the next time she volunteered, she learned the woman had died. She said it was a sad moment, but she tries to see the big picture that the woman “had suffered for a long time and isn’t (suffering) anymore.”
There’s no paycheck and no health benefits, so what’s in it for them?
Palovchak said it’s a “joy to come here. You’re helping people, and they’re happy to see you. So, you feel appreciated.”
For more information about volunteering, visit summerlinhospital.com or call 702-233-7532.
To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-387-2949.
How to volunteer
Anyone 16 or older can apply to volunteer at Summerlin Hospital. All prospective volunteers must complete an application and background check, interview with the volunteer coordinator, be tested for tuberculosis and attend a general volunteer orientation.
With the exception of the Summer Teen Volunteer Program, volunteers work a minimum of four hours per week and a maximum of eight. A six-month commitment is requested.
Volunteers first start as a greeter at one of the information desks to get acquainted with the hospital. After reaching 35 hours of volunteer work, volunteers can request a department change.
Visit summerlinhospital.com or call 702-233-7532.