Volunteers are staple at ELCH

EAST LIVERPOOL – Hardly a person enters East Liverpool City Hospital without being touched in some way by the hospital auxiliary, a group of volunteers who, since 1934, have been helping and comforting patients and visitors.

Auxiliary members staff the hospital gift shop and snack bar, serve as receptionists at the front desk, act as liaisons between hospital staff and relatives of surgical patients, and assist patients in the cardiology, wound care and MRI sections – among other duties.

“We’re always busy,” said Mary Lou Visnic, auxiliary president. “It’s all to benefit the hospital and the community.”

The auxiliary started as the Laurel Twig in 1934 and became the ELCH Ladies’ Auxiliary in 1938, with members helping the hospital during the Depression by rolling bandages and performing other tasks. Men started volunteering for the non-profit organization about 15 years ago.

The one constant has been the pursuit of its mission – promoting the health and welfare of people in the East Liverpool area in partnership with the hospital – through volunteerism and fundraising, Visnic said. Since its founding 80 years ago, the auxiliary has donated millions of dollars to the hospital for renovations, remodeling projects and the purchase of furniture and medical equipment, she said.

“Sometimes, the hospital will give us a wish list, and we’ll buy something for that wish list,” Visnic said.

On Saturday, the hospital auxiliary will hold a Mad Hatters Tea Party & Luncheon at the East Liverpool Motor Lodge. It likely will be the auxiliary’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Visnic said.

The auxiliary has several main areas of responsibility, Visnic said, starting with the reception desk where volunteers answer the phone and greet patients and visitors.

Volunteers also oversee the book cart whereby current magazines are distributed throughout the hospital. The auxiliary asks for donations of recent magazines, which are replenished in the waiting and reception areas on a weekly basis.

The snack bar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner – mostly soup and sandwiches. “Volunteers work behind the counter and as cashiers,” she said.

In addition, volunteers staff the gift shop, where visitors can buy everything from magazines and a gift for a patient to gum and personal hygiene items.

Profits from the gift shop and snack bar go back into their operation, as well as generate funds for the hospital, Visnic said. Volunteers also restock and maintain the hospital’s vending machines.

What’s more, volunteers provide hospitality services for hospital visitors. Surgical hostesses are stationed at the third-floor surgical waiting area, where they act as a liaison between hospital staff and relatives.

“They relay information to family members during surgical procedures. It’s really a needed thing,” Visnic said.

The “East Group” of volunteers greets cardiology, wound care and MRI patients and directs them to their respective departments, she said.

The hospital auxiliary also provides Lifeline emergency alert systems to people in the community who want to live at home despite being elderly or disabled. About 200 people participate in the program, she said.

Hospital CEO Kenneth Cochran said he values “the care they show to our patients and their family members. … They work with patients as much as with visitors. They devote their personal time to come here and make our patients feel more comfortable at a difficult time in their lives.”

Visnic said the auxiliary is always looking for more volunteers and that it’s become harder to find volunteers in recent years. The organization currently lists 120 volunteers, 79 of which are dues-paying members, she said.

“It’s just a very nice organization to be involved with. We have such wonderful volunteers,” she said. “Everybody is out to make everyone feel welcome to the hospital and to be helpful.”

One year, volunteers clocked 9,800 hours in service to the hospital, she said. That service now is rewarded with an annual volunteer appreciation luncheon in May and an annual volunteer of the year award.

The first volunteer of the year, named in 2012, was Joanne “Joan” Witt, who had logged thousands of hours with the ELCH Auxiliary. She died that same year at age 77.

The 2013 volunteer of the year was Sally Nicholson.

To volunteer for the auxiliary, call volunteer coordinator Susan Pucci at 330-386-2003.