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Monday, July 15, 2024

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At Cape Regional, Volunteers Are Back at Last

Volunteers Kiki Miller and Karen Wadding with their volunteer dogs.These furry friends make a big difference in patient morale at Cape Regional Medical Center.  

Volunteers Kiki Miller and Karen Wadding with their volunteer dogs.These furry friends make a big difference in patient morale at Cape Regional Medical Center 

By Collin Hall

COURT HOUSE – Amid the intensity of hospital work, volunteers from across Cape May County hold down the fort at Cape Regional Medical Center. For some, volunteering has been life-changing.  

National Volunteer Week – a celebration of all that volunteers contribute to hospitals across America – is April 16-22, and Tom Piratzky, executive director of the Cape Regional Foundation, stressed that volunteering has been “critical” for patient morale.  

“Something small, like bringing a patient a pitcher of water, a newspaper, a magazine, and it’s something they look forward to,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world.”   

But kindness is a two-way street. Marge Carter, a Wildwood woman whose husband passed away 14 years ago, says that volunteering at the hospital has given her a new lease on life.  

“I felt like a loose end, and a friend said to me, ‘You should really volunteer at the hospital.’ That was the best advice anybody had ever given me. Volunteering has given me a new purpose and a new life,” she said to the Herald. 

Volunteering takes many forms at Cape Regional. Carter volunteered as a front desk receptionist and helped deliver prescriptions to patients’ rooms. 

But not all volunteers are human. Cape Regional has at least two dog volunteers – one of these four-legged volunteers is Glory, a German shepherd who brings the American flag into patients’ rooms, with the small “flagpole” held in her mouth. Glory is often joined by a deaf Labrador retriever who understands sign language. 

One of the most popular – and immediately impactful – forms of volunteering are the volunteer carts that are taken into patients’ rooms. These carts bring hot tea, books, candy, and activities to bedridden patients. 

Christine Kenney said that the cart is often an excuse just to spend time with patients.  

“I love to talk to people as I get them coffee, tea, whatever they want or are allowed to have,” she said. 

Kenney moved here full time from Hopewell and found a new community here through volunteering. She is relatively new at the hospital. She had “always wanted to volunteer” but her hopes were slashed in Hopewell as Covid forced the world into a malaise. 

Covid put the entire volunteer program at Cape Regional on pause, ironically as hospital attendance spiked and when they were perhaps needed most. But when the pandemic ended, Kenney got right back to it.  

Carter said, “Those two years being home were really hard. Some of the older volunteers never came back.” 

Raymond Wisniewski, head of volunteering at Cape Regional, said that it has been a great joy to see volunteers light up the hospital’s hallways after a long period of inactivity.  

“It’s great to see patients’ days lit up like that again,” he said. 

Dozens of volunteers spend their time working with patients, but just as many work behind the scenes with the hospital’s Auxiliary to raise money for vital improvements to Cape May County’s only hospital. 

The Auxiliary was founded in 1951. A group of local women fundraised for months on end to build a new hospital on Stone Harbor Boulevard, where it still stands today. 

Anne Hassel, Auxiliary president, visits the hospital at least three days a week to strategize future fundraising projects and to make the Auxiliary operate more efficiently. The Auxiliary is currently working to raise $5 million that will go towards Cape Regional’s new surgery wing.  

“We almost always pay back our pledges early,” Hassel said. 

Hassel and Carter both emphasized the generosity that exists in Cape May County. Dozens of people donate their time to the hospital each week, but thousands more donate money to the cause.  

“Cape May County is a deeply generous place,” Carter said. “That’s how we survive. It ties us all together.”  

Are you a volunteer? Have you been positively impacted by a hospital volunteer? Did you just enjoy the story? Contact the author, Collin Hall, at chall@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 156. 

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