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Volunteers enhance the patient experience

The theme for 2019 National Volunteer Week – “Enhancing the Patient Experience” – is not just a tagline; it’s the daily goal for all Yale New Haven Hospital volunteers, according to Lynelle Abel, system director, Volunteer and Guest Services, Yale New Haven Health.

In 2018, more than 2,200 YNHH volunteers, from high school students to seniors, served 170,000 hours in more than 300 assignments. In addition to the New Haven campuses, volunteers serve in locations such as the Shoreline and North Haven medical centers, Long Wharf, Bridgeport Hospital Pediatrics and Smilow Cancer Care Centers throughout the state.

“The focus on providing an exceptional experience for our patients and their families informs the work of our volunteer departments,” Abel said. “Our ability to create additional resources for patients, families and staff has been embedded in the fabric of our volunteer departments’ operations for decades.”

Abel noted that volunteer roles have changed significantly since they entered the healthcare industry. In the early 19th century, volunteers’ basic duties included wrapping bandages and delivering juice to patients.

“Now volunteers give time in hundreds of areas across Yale New Haven Health System,” Abel said. “Their impact is extraordinary.”

In September 2018, when Patient Experience became a health system division, volunteer program leaders from all delivery networks came together to examine how a combined effort could benefit the entire system. They began identifying ways to significantly change the landscape for patients, examining their programs and together developing a strategic plan to replicate best practices across the system.

Several of these programs, such as YNHH’s peer-to-peer programs, place volunteers who have experienced the same health conditions as patients at the bedside.

“Whether it’s a volunteer active in their own recovery from substance abuse, a cardiac peer volunteer who had a heart transplant or a former Smilow patient back to share a story of hope, these volunteers are positioned to add support and lend an empathic listening ear,” Abel said.

Other successful programs include Healing Touch, Comfort Corners, Oasis for Healing, Pet Therapy and Recovery Volunteers, which are aligned with various other patient experience initiatives.

“Every chance we have to add a layer of support to existing programs and services overseen by employees is a win-win for our patients and families,” Abel said.

All delivery networks will mark National Volunteer Week April 7 - 13. YNHH’s celebration will culminate with the annual appreciation dinner April 17. “National Volunteer Week provides an opportunity to shine a light on their gifts of service and compassion,” said Abel. “Please remember to thank our volunteers for all that they do.”