Even emergency departments count on volunteers

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 9:27am

By Lesley Anne Squarey

A stomach bug is on the rise and patients are arriving in numbers at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville. A volunteer in a bright red vest greets people at the door, directs them to registration and distributes paper bags to ill patients. While making her rounds she notices a gentleman who is bent over and feeling unwell. She stops to console him.

Originally from Ottawa, Eileen Lewis was a volunteer, commonly known as a candy striper, as a teenager. She went into training at the age of 16 to be a nurse in Ottawa, and later worked as a registered nurse in Halifax. Now retired, she works as a volunteer at the Cobequid Health Centre every Wednesday. This is her third year volunteering, and she loves it.

While working as a nurse, she served in the respiratory medicine unit. When she chose to volunteer, however, she was called to the emergency departments. “I was searching for something that was meaningful and I could look forward to every day. The patient setting was something I was very familiar and comfortable with. It just made sense,” she said.

When patients arrive at the emergency doors they often feel tired, anxious and disoriented, says Lewis. That’s why it is so important to have someone available to provide direction and comfort to patients.

“It really helps if someone is there to explain things. I’m someone they can come to if they need help. When things get busy, I’m there to assure them that they haven’t been forgotten. They really appreciate it.”

As an emergency volunteer, Lewis performs a variety of tasks that include greeting people at the entrances, monitoring the waiting room, assisting patients to appointments and helping with parking machines, amongst many other things.

Lewis laughs and admits the job description differs from that of a registered nurse but notes the most important similarity that hasn’t changed. “When a patient is ill and in distress, I do everything I can to try and help them in the best possible way and that feels good.”