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Former patient John Leary shares his expertise as a family partner volunteer at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.
MultiCare Profiles: Former patient volunteers to help others
When hospital volunteer John Leary visits patients who are awaiting major surgery, he has a pretty good idea what they’re feeling.
“Do you have any questions?” he asks. “I can answer them, because I’ve been in that bed.”
John, a retired EMT and Paramedic, underwent triple-bypass heart surgery at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital in January 2011. Now in his role as a family partner volunteer, John’s firsthand experience is valuable in sharing the surgical experience with patients and their families. He also to helps them understand what to expect in the first hours and days afterward.
More than anything, John is here to listen.
Volunteers who have been a patient help create “more of a connection between the patient, family and staff,” John said. “That’s what we try to do”
Luanne Garces, RN, who helps coordinate volunteers and integrate their work with staff members, praised John for being friendly and compassionate.
"One patient just spoke to me about John, of how caring he is," Garces said. "John took the time to chat with her, and just made her day feel better. We are so blessed to have John in our unit and I am so glad that our staff has accepted the role of the volunteers and embrace them of what they do."
On a recent Friday on the Fifth Floor of the Rainier Pavilion at Tacoma General, John checked in with each patient. Some were recovering from surgery; others were preparing for it. Many had support from family; others didn’t.
John asks if they need anything, and offers them magazines, playing cards, or handmade pillowcases that were donated by volunteers – a small but warm gesture that makes people feel welcome and comfortable during a time that can be stressful. John also serves as a mentor for new volunteers, and helps them get oriented and feel welcome.
“John is a breath of fresh air and offers such wonderful support to the patients, families and staff,” said Ann Hagensen, Family Centered Care Program Director. “We so appreciate our wonderful Family Partner Volunteers. They bring a level of confidence that is unique to the health care experience. They have been in the bed and they share an empathy and compassion in a very special way. What better way to feel more comfortable with a health care experience than from someone who has been through it.”
Earlier in the week, John spoke with a Tacoma Nurse Residency class to teach them the value of patient and family-centered care. The key, he says, is working with patients and families, rather than doing something to them or for them.
“Families want to be included,” he says. “They may not tell you, but they want to be included. What I’ve learned through this whole thing is that information is power. Information brings confidence, and it promotes healing. “
He sums up that collaboration with the words of the national patient-safety slogan, "Nothing about me without me."
“Don’t talk about me in the hallway,” he told the nurse residents. “I’m not a number or a diagnosis, but a person who wants to be a part of the entire process.”
John tells a story about his first week as a volunteer, when he visited a 75-year-old woman who had spent 15 days in the Intensive Care Unit. During that time, no one visited her. John stopped by for a visit and said, “I’m here to listen and I’m here to help if I can.”
John sat down and talked with her for an hour. Before he left for the evening, he even got her to laugh and smile.
Two days later when John came back, he discovered that the woman had died.
“Her passing hit me like a ton of bricks, but I felt good that, for a few moments, I made her smile," he said. "I was there for her, and that’s what I’m here for.”
MultiCare Profiles: Through these stories, we aim to highlight people who exemplify our values and help contribute to our overall mission of providing quality care for patients and their families. If you know someone who should be considered for MultiCare Profiles, send us an email.
Posted on May 25, 2012 in MultiCare Profiles