Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW) is the region’s largest employer and alongside our paid workforce are the volunteers who selflessly give their time each week to those in the hospital system.
Belinda Harrison from the Wangaratta Chronicle has been spending time with our volunteers at NHW. Over the next month, she will be introducing you to some of our volunteers who work in the wards, in community palliative care, as meals on wheels drivers and at Illoura Residential Aged Care.
There are plenty of ways to be involved as a volunteer at Northeast Health and we are always on the lookout for more friendly faces to join their team. If you would like more information or to apply for a position, please contact the Volunteer Services team on (03) 5722 5297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making a difference in our palliative care
Linda Hughes had personal experience with the important work done by palliative care volunteers when she was a carer for a close family member.
“The palliative care team were just wonderful and gave me so much support on every level including managing symptoms and health and emotional and practical support,” she said.
“People often associate palliative care with end of life and think ‘well that’s it’ for the ill person, but it’s really about helping people live well with a life threatening illness.
“In my own experience, I was involved for over two years with my family member needing care so often it’s not a case of seeing people who are only going to survive a few more months, they can survive a lot longer.”
Palliative care volunteers spend time with people in their homes, offering support and practical assistance to the family and, if they want to, can visit them in the hospital at end of life.
“Giving back to the community is an important reason why I volunteer, and being able to help and support people during a really difficult time in their lives is a special thing,” Linda said.
“Just being present and listening means so much to people; when you listen to them, it lifts some pressure off them.
“They may not feel comfortable talking to their family about the practical parts of end of life, but that’s a way that volunteers can help as you are a bit more removed from the situation emotionally.”
Linda said that being a good listener is the biggest attribute a palliative care volunteer can have and that ‘if you are giving, you’re receiving’.
“If you’re making even the tiniest bit of difference to someone that’s what it’s all about,” Linda said.
A creative way to give back
If Northeast Health Wangaratta can be thankful to COVID for one thing, it is Rosie Camillo-Tennent.
Rosie and her husband moved from Sydney to Wangaratta in 2020 where Rosie had been working in the palliative care unit at Concord Hospital.
When she first arrived, she applied for a volunteer position as an art therapist at Kerferd, but as no volunteers were able to work in that area, Rosie took a position on the COVID desk.
Rosie now volunteers at Illoura Residential Aged Care and uses art as therapy with residents during her weekly group sessions.
“I’m 70 years old and I have all these skills that I’ve built up over a lifetime as an artist and art therapist, and it’s really nice to be able to share those with others,” she said.
“I organise a group art activity which is sometimes relevant to a day or an event like the Melbourne Cup, but it doesn’t have to be – for instance, recently we received some new pastels so we just enjoyed using those to create individual artworks.”
Rosie said she spends a couple of hours preparing before she arrives, ensuring she has completed examples to bring in to show the group.
“Some of the residents are compromised in the use of their hands so I work with them to do something slightly different to the rest of the group – that ensures they can still participate and be involved,” Rosie explained.
“It’s an important social time for them where they can keep active and be out with other people, sharing stories and talking.
“I have learnt a lot about the history of the Wangaratta area from the lovely people at Illoura and it’s so interesting; they talk about their lives and what they’ve done in the past…there is a real variety among the residents.”
Rosie is an excellent example of how NHW works to match volunteers’ interests, skills and wants to what they need within their hospital and aged care sectors.
“Working with volunteers to get the fit right is really important to us; if they’ve got something to offer and a really strong drive to volunteer, we’ll work with them to try and find the fit that works for everyone,” NHW volunteer manager Kerryn Mitchell said.
“When Rosie came to us it was really about trying to match her amazing skills and interests into something that would be meaningful for our residents and when the volunteering opportunity came up at Illoura, we spoke to Rosie and found somewhere that’s a good fit for her and for us.”
Rosie said that volunteering is a two-way process.
“It keeps me active, keeps me thinking and gives me a chance to be integrated into the community, as an immigrant to Australia it’s really nice to be able to give back to say thank you for making me welcome,” she said.
“I really do get as much out of volunteering as the residents get from my being there.”
Meals help form friendships
When Rob Falla retired he knew he didn’t want to be idle and by becoming a Meals on Wheels volunteer at Northeast Health Wangaratta, his week is still given routine, he can help those in need and he has made some firm friendships.
“My mum was a meals on wheels volunteer for years and years and so was my father so I thought that given I had some time on my hands after retiring, I’d like to pick up the baton and do the same thing,” Rob said.
“It gives me an involvement in the community and in the care of the elderly that I think is really important.
“With more and more people moving into the age bracket where they need care, being able to stay at the family home is quite important for a lot of them and for me to be able to play a small part in ensuring that can happen is just wonderful.”
“We have eight runs per day – four runs at 11am and four at 12pm, five days a week,” volunteer manager Kerryn Mitchell said.
“There are up to 12 deliveries on each run so that’s almost 100 elderly members of the community who rely on hot, fresh meals from our hospital kitchen each day.”
Rob has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for around four years and has two regular shifts per week, however he will often fill in when needed on other days.
“Apart from the community benefits for those I deliver to, I get the opportunity to meet people I really enjoy spending time with and sometimes it’s a struggle to get away because we’re chatting about the local footy or horse racing and I don’t want to leave,” Rob laughed.
“You form wonderful friendships; there is a great opportunity to have a long term relationship with someone because you might be delivering their meal every day for two years so you get to know what’s happening in their life and they will be very interested in what’s happening in your life.
“As a retiree, you can get a bit isolated from what’s happening in the community so it’s good to go out and get a feel of what’s going on around the town.
“To me, forming friendships is a key part of meals on wheels; it’s what you’re bringing to that person and what that person brings to you and I’ve got some lovely relationships with people that I’ve seen throughout the journey.”
During COVID lockdowns, Rob was involved in a start-up program within the hospital which enabled people to speak to a loved one.
“I facilitated a computer-based interaction program that Kerryn got going for people who were bedbound and weren’t technology savvy to be able to talk to loved ones at home who couldn’t come in and visit,” Rob explained.
“It was just another way we could ensure relationships and connection continued when we were physically apart.”
A rewarding role for those who care
Reg Woodford is a homeward bound and patient support volunteer at NHW.
The decision to start volunteering with NHW was an easy one for Reg Woodford who moved to the Wangaratta area about 10 years ago.
“I love helping people and I thought that the hospital would be a good place to start looking for some volunteer work and give me the best chance of meeting people and making new friends,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started but at Northeast Health it feels like we’re one big family; it’s a really caring environment where everybody greets you and everybody cares for you, and that made the decision to volunteer with them each week easy.
“I came in and started as a homeward bound and patient support person and I really loved it; I have now been here on and off for about four or five years.”
During COVID restrictions, Reg took on the role of patient transport officer and enjoyed that well enough, however he is now back with the homeward bound crew which is where he really stars.
“Everyone loves Reg and his friendly demeanour, he is such a joy to have on board and the way he looks after the patients in his care is just wonderful,” volunteer manager Kerryn Mitchell said.
Reg said that some of the people he takes care of like to have a chat and others don’t.
“I don’t mind either way, I just love being here for them,” he said.
“When someone is ready to go home, I help them pack and take them down to the transit lounge where we might have more of a conversation or I might just get a magazine for them to read while they wait.
“When it’s time for them to leave I take them to the front entrance and say goodbye and it’s nice for patients to have someone with them when they’re going home.
“Some of my patients are quite lonely and it’s nice that I can be someone for them to talk to – I leave at the end of each shift feeling like I’ve really given back to the community.
“Being a volunteer is a feel-good job and gives me a wonderful sense of achievement that I’m proud of.”