The cart idea started with the Carle Experience department providing socialization and an improved hospital stay experience during the pandemic, but the idea evolved and Volunteer Services began organizing volunteers to manage the comfort carts. “It seems like a natural fit,” Eric Toliver, director, Auxiliary and Volunteer Services, said. The focus is on patients in orthopedic rehab, surgery and the medical-surgical area of the hospital where patients have longer experiences at the hospital.
Upon arrival on an inpatient adult floor, the first order of business for volunteers is asking nurses on duty if they would like a candy treat from a small container on the cart. No candy goes to patients to avoid dietary concerns and allergy complications. Instead, patients choose from a variety of items like word search sheets, fidget snaps, or books to help make time pass more quickly. Also, volunteers never disturb sleeping patients nor go into a room when a patient is talking or receiving treatment from a medical team member. On average, a volunteer could see 20 to 30 patients a day.
Vivacious volunteer Wendy Barnes retired after 30 years of being a high school science and health teacher in Danville and as a volunteer, she looks forward to meeting patients and sharing something from the Comfort Cart when she volunteers two times every other week. “Maybe I can bring comfort and a smile to someone,” she said.
Kishor Joshi, a retired chemist, said he started volunteering at Carle Foundation Hospital more than 10 years ago and he volunteers with the Comfort Cart two hours a week. “I love it. The patients always tell me ‘you make my day’ and I say, ‘you make my day.’”
“I am blessed. I grew up in the same town Mahatma Gandhi was born in. I received much from God and I want to give it back,” Joshi said.
While the Comfort Cart program is new at Carle Foundation Hospital, Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal has had a similar patient support program for about a year. Called the ABC (Activity Box of Care) Initiative. The volunteer goes into a patient room with a menu of items that includes decks of cards, coloring pages, ear plugs, eye glasses for reading and phone chargers. The patient may choose from the list and the volunteer retrieves the items from an ABC tub in a secure area nearby. It is also noted what items are available from the patient gift store.
“It seems to be very successful as the patients appreciate the items as well as having a volunteer to talk with during the stay,” Sue Sebring, manager of Volunteer Services at Carle BroMenn Medical Center, said. Patients in addiction recovery, emergency, intensive care, medical oncology and pediatric infusion are among areas where patients benefit from the ABC items.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for these programs or others, may reach out to Volunteer Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. Individual volunteers must complete an application and participate in a background check before being an active volunteer.