Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center celebrates National Volunteer Week

South Central UP

IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. (WJMN) – National Volunteer week is April 18 – 24.

“We really missed the smiling faces of our volunteers and we were so happy to safely welcome many of them back over the last few months!” stated Voluntary Service Chief, Katie Maxon. “They have an incredible impact on the Veteran experience, and our patients and staff were acutely aware of their absence.”

All volunteer activity was suspended during a few months due to COVID-19 but the VA was able to safely welcome back their volunteers starting last summer. The first volunteers back were volunteer drivers. In the fall, greeters and coffee station volunteers were back in action.

Volunteers Bob Manning (left) and Jane Peters (right) man the coffee desk at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center. The presence of volunteers back at the Iron Mountain-based facility has been a very welcomed sight for Veterans and employees. Courtesy of Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center

Volunteer activities in the Community Living Center (CLC) are still restricted to protect the vulnerable Veterans living there. As more individuals are vaccinated, staff look forward to seeing volunteers return to service to help with activities, outings and visits.

“We can’t wait to safely welcome back our Activities volunteers to the CLC,” stated Recreation Therapist, Heather LaPalm. “As staff, we do all we can to engage and entertain our residents, but they love talking to the volunteers, many of whom are Veterans themselves, and spending time getting the know them.”

Over 225 volunteers help to support the Veterans and staff at the Medical Center and in clinics across the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin. While COVID-19 has limited some activities for now, they typically serve in many roles: providing transport to and from medical appointments, greeting and directing patients at our facilities, escorting patients who need special assistance, providing recreation and improving quality of life for residents in our Community Living Center, supporting hospice and companion programs for end of life care, taking on special projects or administratively supporting staff, and sharing time with Veterans at the Coffee Desk.

“While we have always appreciated all that our volunteers have done, their absence made us aware of the true value they bring to our Medical Center and our Veterans,” stated Medical Center Director James Rice. “Were so pleased to have many of them safely back on station.”

Veteran Service Organizations quickly adapted to volunteer restrictions and supported donations to fund gift bags for all of the residents in lieu of a traditional ceremony for Memorial Day. Courtesy of Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center

In 2020, the VA received over $40,000 in monetary donations to augment Veteran care and another $130,000 in non-monetary donations to support comfort and improve the quality of life for the Veterans. While those numbers are significant, the human component is priceless. Despite COVID restrictions, VA Volunteers still contributed 17,037 hours to the VA Medical Center, which is equivalent to eight full-time positions.

“It was truly amazing to see how donors and volunteers adapted to the COVID restrictions and found other ways to stay connected to Veterans with phone calls or cards,” said Maxon. “They constantly contacted our Voluntary Service Office to continue to fund activities in the CLC even if they couldn’t volunteer to coordinate them.”

During National Volunteer Week, the VA Medical Center normally hosts special events and provides accolades to honor our VA volunteers and express gratitude for all they do to support Veteran care. This year’s celebration will be postponed until summer to accommodate outdoor activities that can follow safe COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations. The VA Volunteers deserve nothing less.

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