Volunteers have been present at Unity Health for over 100 years and are often the first point of contact when entering our campuses.  From tour guide to detective to a friendly face in a time of need, volunteers support patients, families and visitors in a variety of ways.  Prior to COVID-19, 1400 active volunteers could be found across our three sites.  But with safety a top priority, Unity Health leadership made the hard but necessary decision to pause the volunteer program early in the pandemic.  As restrictions lift and all staff are vaccinated, patients are thrilled to see these kind folks in brightly coloured vests once again in the hallways.

Jim Thompson appreciated the care he received in hospital for brain surgery and wanted to give back as a volunteer.  He has been stationed at the Our Lady of Mercy entrance at St. Joe’s for seven years.  “My role, first of all, is to make everyone feel comfortable because a lot of people who come to the hospital are nervous.There was one time when an elderly lady came in for a minor operation and was very scared.  I talked to her as I walked her to the surgery area.  Afterwards she said ‘bless you, you’ve made me feel a lot better.’  Volunteering is the most exhilarating thing you can do.  You meet so many different people and at the end of the day you’ve not only helped someone but also made them feel better.”

Tenzin Choesang, a screener at the Our Lady of Mercy entrance says it makes a huge impact to his team and to the health centre to have Jim back.  “He is a really nice guy, lovely, always ready to help whenever you need him,” Tenzin says.  “Jim knows St. Joe’s well and can safely guide patients and families to where they need to go.”  

Jim regularly escorts patients to the other end of the building, tracking his steps.  “One day I had well over 10,000 steps in 3 hours,” says Jim.  “If you’re not tired, you haven’t been really working!” 

Brenda Lupinski has volunteered at various entrances at the health centre for three years.  “Before COVID a lady came in who didn’t have an OHIP card and she was quite distressed,” says Brenda.  “I spent a good 40 minutes taking her to various clinics to see if they could find out where her appointment was.  Older folks may come by taxi or wheeltrans and english might not be their first language.  I take the time to assess their mobility and offer them a wheelchair if needed. Those special interactions really warm my heart.  I have a soft spot for the seniors.” 

Orlando Arboleda Hincapie, a security guard at St. Joseph’s, noticed a void when the volunteers were away.  “From time to time myself or other staff would push wheelchairs for long distances to help somebody get to the emergency department.  We had to extend our roles as it was important to fill that gap. It just shows how important volunteers are, what they do is essential for everyone.”  St. Joseph’s Volunteer Services Operations Leader Susan Bertoldi, is also happy to welcome back old friends.  “Volunteers are crucial because they provide assistance and support to patients when they need it most,” she says.  “They are knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and kind. We are super happy to have them return.”

Brenda did not mind leaving behind her pandemic hobbies of puzzles, knitting and biking to return to St. Joe’s.  “Some people need assistance getting home so I will call them a cab or wheeltrans or guide them to the parking lot or bus stop.  I was born at St. Joe’s.  I grew up in Parkdale and lived here almost 30 years.  When I come here I feel like I’m at home.” 

Jim spent his time away with home improvements and visiting parks from North Bay to Niagara but also could not wait to come back.  “My wife sometimes says I am too much of a people person,” he laughs.  “I’ve been chomping at the bit since about June.” 

By: Katie Cooper