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Albuquerque Business First

 Dennis Domrzalski, Reporter- Albuquerque Business First

At Lovelace Health System’s hospitals they cuddle babies, deliver beverages to patients’ rooms, work the information desks and provide spiritual guidance to patients.

At Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ hospitals they play music and sing to patients, sew pillows, staff the gift shops and help out in the emergency rooms.

They are volunteers, and they provide valuable services to patients and free up clinical staff to practice medicine.

The two hospital systems engage about 1,100 volunteers between them, and while the systems wouldn’t shut down if those volunteers suddenly left, their departures would create a void that would be difficult — and expensive – to fill, officials from Lovelace and Presbyterian say.

“If it weren’t for volunteers, all of the things needed to provide clinical care would have to be done by a paid person. The volunteers are a support for our clinical staff, and that is part of their value,” says Gary Marsjanik, director of volunteer services for Presbyterian.

Presbyterian has nearly 700 volunteers who contributed 92,000 hours of service in 2012, saving the system’s hospitals and clinics $2.1 million, Marsjanik says.

“They saved us money and they saved us from having to fill 45 full-time positions,” he said. “Volunteers are very important to Presbyterian.”

Lovelace has about 400 volunteers in its six-hospital system, and in 2012 they provided about 40,000 hours of service, says Dorrie Abeyta, volunteer coordinator at Lovelace Medical Center. And although Lovelace couldn’t place a dollar value on that service, Lovelace Westside Hospital CEO Farron Sneed says, “We can’t provide services and meet the needs of the community without volunteers.”

Lovelace’s volunteers include 62 people who are trained to help patients with their spiritual needs. They listen to those patients, provide compassion and help them pray, says Chaplain Fabian Gagnon, who has run the program since 1997.

“We have people of just about every religious denomination. We invite the community to participate and provide spiritual and health care to our patients. I believe we are the only hospital in the city and state that has such a huge melting pot,” Gagnon says.

The chaplaincy volunteers go through a training program and six months of practical experience before they are deployed. They are required to provide at least one hour of service a week and commit to a year of service, Gagnon says.

The service, particularly the praying, is valuable because it helps many patients become calm. Spiritual care is an important and often overlooked aspect of health care, Gagnon adds.

“I don’t think this would happen at other hospitals. We are all about compassion and care, and for that you don’t need a degree or a license,” Gagnon says.

Presbyterian recently started two new volunteer programs. The Falls Prevention program puts volunteers in patients’ rooms where they look for things that might cause a patient to fall.

“Maybe the walker is 10 or 15 feet away from the bed, or the nurse-call button is out of reach. The volunteer goes into the room and does the observation,” Marsjanik says. “They go through extensive training and it has really lowered the number of falls, which is good for the hospital because it prevents longer stays in hospitals.”

The Healing Through Music program includes volunteers who play guitars and sing for patients.

“We recently had a musician in a room with an oncology patient. They played a song and she began to cry. She said it was the first time she had let her tears flow since being diagnosed with cancer,” Marsjanik said.

Americans are big on volunteering. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 64.3 million Americans volunteered in 2011. They contributed 8 billion hours of service with an estimated economic value of $171 billion.

In New Mexico, nearly 414,000 residents volunteered in 2011, the CNCS said. They provided 63.9 million hours of service worth $1.4 billion, the agency said.

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