Volunteer power is the ‘secret sauce’ of excellence at CHI Memorial, official says

Photography courtesy of CHI Memorial / Jean Payne, volunteer services director at CHI Memorial

Interview with Jean Payne, Volunteer Services Director at CHI Memorial

Tell us about your job and your volunteers. Are most of them retired?

We have an amazing team of volunteers. I could talk about them all day -- they inspire me, make me laugh and bring me joy. Most are retired, but we have a few who are still employed.

We have volunteers from all walks of life: retired physicians, former business owners, CEOs, nurses, editors, teachers, therapists, flight attendants, veterans, bankers, secretaries, musicians, media professionals, government leaders and more. At CHI Memorial, they are all on the same team, and they are all here because they want to be here. It's a diverse and dedicated team.

My job involves getting to know them and matching their talents with needs at CHI Memorial. I try to find them a position where they can soar and know they are making a difference. With six locations and 80 or more services areas, the hospital has many opportunities for volunteers.

How do volunteers benefit the hospital?

Volunteers helped build the hospital and have been involved since it opened in 1952. Our CEO Janelle Reilly says, "Volunteers are CHI Memorial's 'secret sauce.'"

Volunteers make a huge impact on patient satisfaction by greeting people, making them feel welcome, taking them where they need to go, listening to them, answering questions, and just being present with them. All of their actions help support our staff in countless ways.

CHI Memorial recently received several national awards for patient experience and safety, and volunteers helped achieve that excellence. They serve as extra eyes and ears, helping to notice safety issues by speaking up when they notice something broken or by sharing the message if they hear a complaint about something that could be improved.

Through the years, the Auxiliary has raised millions of dollars to enhance patient services. They help with fundraisers and community events, sit on committees, serve on hospital boards, and share their expertise in many ways.

To me, volunteering at CHI Memorial is a win-win-win -- for the volunteers, for the hospital, and for the community.

Why do people volunteer?

Many volunteer after they retire because they have more free time and want to give back to the community. Our physicians also encourage many people to volunteer for their health, to stay active and engaged with other people. Volunteering can give an added purpose to life.

Many hospital employees come back to volunteer. They no longer want to work full time, but believe in the mission of the hospital. It's also a good way for people who are new to Chattanooga to get involved in the community and meet people.

What are the benefits to the volunteers?

Volunteering is an opportunity to learn, do something different, socialize and make friends. I've seen lifelong friendships develop between volunteers -- people who would never have met any other way. We even had a couple get married who met while volunteering.

The teams that work together on different days are like family. One recently had surgery, and his team has visited, sent cards and gifts. This is typical.

Volunteers and staff also become like family. Volunteers make friends with clinical people and learn more about the hospital and procedures. All of us, at one point in our lives, will need medical assistance for ourselves or a loved one, and the more a person knows about his or her caregiver or health facility, the more comfortable and confident they will feel.

If someone is interested in volunteering, what do they need to do?

The first step is to fill out an application, which is available online at: www.memorial.org/volunteer. Applications are also available at CHI Memorial information desks or by calling 423.495.8610. Once the application has been received, someone from the hospital will schedule an interview and an orientation session -- and the new volunteer can start putting their ministry in motion.

Fast Facts for 2022

* CHI Memorial has 303 active volunteers in six locations in more than 80 different service areas.

* Volunteers donated more than 37,845 hours, which is equivalent to 19 full-time employees.

* Volunteer team includes CHI Memorial Auxiliary, independent and student volunteers.