Lend a hand
Interested in volunteering? Go online to www.nhcmd.org or call the volunteer office at the campus where you are interested in serving at to obtain a volunteer application.
NCH Healthcare System Downtown Hospital: (239) 436-5200
Marco Island Healthcare Center: (239) 393-4058
North Naples Hospital: (239) 552-7703
NAPLES — Cecilia Koncsol never thought she would be getting up at 4:30 in the morning in her retirement, but she has decided to trade in extra sleep for some quality time with newborn children.
“I missed my babies,” said Koncsol, a retired registered nurse with 30 years experience working in a nursery.
Once a week Koncsol rises early to offer a tender touch to the tiny babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at North Naples Community Hospital. As a “snuggler-volunteer” her job is to hold the babies, and she likes to talk and sing to them, too.
“I think they like to hear a human voice,” she said.
Koncsol is just one of 1,200 volunteers who donate their time and talents to the NCH Healthcare System.
“They are a godsend,” said Catherine Ravelo, nurse manager of the NICU.
“They come and hold babies that are fussy, give them the extra interaction that they need that’s beneficial for developmental and social interactions.”
The volunteers also provide a major cost-savings for NCH. Volunteers provided close to 200,000 hours of service last fiscal year, according to Amanda Smith, director of volunteer services.
“They’re very special people and they’re here because they want to be, not because they have to be,” said Smith.
While a health care background is helpful, volunteers do not have to have one. There’s no age restriction, either. The volunteers range in age from 15 to 95, and there are a wide variety of jobs for them. The main requirement for volunteering is good customer-service relations, said Smith.
“We have volunteers that serve in very traditional roles, such as at the information desk, the family waiting room and the emergency room,” said Smith. “Then we have volunteers serving in very non-traditional roles.”
Some of the more unique volunteer jobs are as clowns, arts and healing volunteers — even pet therapists, who bring animals around to patients’ rooms. There is something for just about every interest across 100 departments in the health care system. Volunteer T.J. Sands says she was looking for a way to be active while donating her time and found her niche in the transportation department.
“I went through all the things that I could possibly do, and then I heard about transportation, where I could walk six miles a day,” said Sands. “It turned out to be really nice.”
Sands takes patients in wheelchairs or on stretchers wherever they need to go into the hospital.
“It’s amazing how good you feel when you leave,” said Sands. “You’ve done something for the community and usually you transport people who have a good story to tell.”
Another fun job for volunteers is taking patients outside for some fresh air. At the NCH Dowtown Naples Hospital there is a garden where patients can walk or be wheeled around a lake surrounded by lush plants and trees.
“They just absolutely enjoy being out in the sun and the scenery,” said volunteer Sandra Bushnell. “I just think it is so important for their well-being to be able to get out of the hospital environment.”
The hospital environment can also be a stressful place at times for the volunteers, because they are often challenged by the patient problems they see day in and day out. To help volunteers cope with the stress the hospital trains volunteers to know how to pause in a moment of crisis, said Smith.
“You just have to think that you are doing all you can,” said Bushnell. “Even though it may affect you on the inside you are not going to show it on the outside.”
Bushnell’s strength allows her to go home with a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day she said:
“You know that you’re helping somebody, making someone feel better.”
The benefits of volunteering are not just for the patients. Besides the gratification it provides the volunteers, studies have shown volunteers may live longer as a result of their activism, said Smith.
“They’re getting back more than they’re giving,” said Smith.