They're always filling a need Patients, visitors benefit from work of volunteers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By Joanie Morris

Kannapolis Citizen

Bob Misenheimer has been volunteering at NorthEast Medical Center for more than 10 years. In that time, he’s seen a lot of things — including former students come and go through the doors of the Medical Arts Building, where he mans the front desk once a week.

For Misenheimer, it’s an opportunity to serve his community. Serving seems to be what Misenheimer is all about. A former school teacher and principal, he is active in the Kannapolis Rotary Club and is mayor for the city of Kannapolis.

It’s the service at NorthEast Medical Center that consumes his Friday mornings.

“I enjoy talking to people,” said Misenheimer on a break from helping out as one of more than 260 adult volunteers at the hospital. “This gives me an opportunity to see and talk to people.”

Misenheimer volunteers because he gets to help people with their problems. It makes their visit to NorthEast Medical Center a little smoother.

“You have to be on the ball,” said Misenheimer. He keeps a cheat sheet in the pocket of his uniform of khaki pants and blue volunteer shirt. The cheat sheet lets him know where changed sections of the hospital are now located. “There’s so many different things.”

Katherine Barrier, director of volunteer services for NorthEast Medical Center, said Misenheimer is just like others who volunteer at NorthEast. They do it because they love it.

“They want to get out and meet people and do something in the community,” Barrier said. In addition, volunteers make friends. Each day when Barrier goes to the cafeteria, she sees volunteers sitting at a table, laughing and enjoying themselves. She has other volunteers who go out to dinner once a month to celebrate birthdays.

“They look forward to seeing each other every week,” Barrier said.

The life of a volunteer isn’t always easy. While there are sedentary jobs such as answering phones or manning desks, Barrier cautions that certain volunteer jobs require some work.

“They have been known to walk 4 to 7 miles on their shifts,” said Barrier. “We need folks who can handle the physical jobs of pushing wheelchairs and such.”

Barrier said there is always an ebb and flow of volunteers and new volunteers are always needed. She said some people volunteer as their New Year’s resolution. It’s never too late to sign up.

One of her resolutions is to have more volunteers this year. With the addition of Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, as well as additional units and wings in other parts of the hospital, she anticipates the need for about 40 new volunteers by April.

“Most volunteers give a four-hour shift a week,” Barrier explained. “Most positions are daytime, but we do have some evening and weekends possible.”

She also has a list of substitute volunteers for when regulars can’t make a scheduled shift.

Volunteering at NorthEast Medical Center is much like going to apply for a job, Barrier said.

“Volunteers are considered staff,” Barrier said. “We have to process them in a similar pattern.”

That means in addition to filling out an application, volunteers have to submit to an interview, background check, reference check and tuberculosis tests, among other things.

“You want to make sure you protect the patient,” Barrier explained. “They have to be able to abide by (privacy) and confidentiality guidelines and hospital policy.”

Not all the volunteers work on the campus, either, Barrier added. There are parish nurses who work out in the community at churches. In addition, Barrier said she tries to make sure there are a lot of special projects for the volunteers so they can be involved in other areas of the hospital.

There are more than 15 departments with volunteers staffed; about 900 positions a month are filled with volunteers. Last year, volunteers donated about 44,000 hours, equalling more than $1 million in donated hours.

“That’s a tremendous amount of donated hours,” Barrier said.

In February, Barrier said, her office will begin sending out applications for junior volunteers. Of the applications, about 65 teens will be picked to volunteer for a shift a week during the summer.

The ideal volunteer is friendly and compassionate, with “a quick smile for folks,” Barrier said.

“Ultimately, it’s dealing with people,” Barrier said. A lot of times, the volunteer is the first person a patient sees as they come in and the last person they see when they leave. “They can make an impact on the hospital experience.”

She has a lot of perfect volunteers, including Misenheimer.

“He puts the patient first,” Barrier said. “And the folks he’s helping.”

Misenheimer said one of the most rewarding experiences he has had at the hospital is his time on the Volunteer Auxiliary.

“Right after I came here, we had a person who was terminal and he was supposed to be president of the auxiliary,” Misenheimer said. He was asked to take over and agreed.

“We really started making a great deal of difference,” he recalled of his time on the auxiliary. “I had a really good board. The thing that really started making a difference was when we started donating money.”

Misenheimer said his board had heard that the hospital didn’t have enough for a mobile mammography unit. That year, they raised and donated $25,000 for the purchase of that unit.

Now, the volunteers are always looking for ways to help the hospital in other ways. They’ve contributed between $150,000 and $200,000 to the NorthEast Medical Center Foundation and have encouraged paid employees to give as well, by offering to match their contributions.

“We are real proud that started during our regime,” Misenheimer said of the donations.

A couple years ago, Misenheimer had cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. His doctor advised him to stay away from the hospital whenever he could because he was less immune to illness and would get sick easily.

“I was not here for almost a year,” Misenheimer recalled. “I really did miss that. This was one of the things I really wanted to come back to.”

Misenheimer said volunteering at the hospital is most rewarding.

“The people that I have an opportunity to work with are just good people,” Misenheimer said. “I enjoy being here.”

Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or