Volunteers Add Calming Influence, Extra Help to The James Care Team

Nikki Ransom The James Volunteer

During her many trips to visit multiple family members and friends undergoing treatment, Nikki Ransom was impressed by the volunteers she met at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

“Through all my interactions with the volunteers, I got this feeling that we were in good hands and that they’re here for you,” Ransom said.

Ransom was so impressed that she became a volunteer at the OSUCCC – James in December 2014. She does a weekly, two-hour shift in the Surgical Visitors Lounge, where family and friends wait while their loved ones are in surgery.

“It’s an anxious time for them, and my goal is to be a calming influence,” Ransom said.

She is one of the 500-plus men and women of all ages, including many former James patients and current Ohio State students, who donate their time to help James patients, their families and the hospital’s staff in a variety of ways — and are indeed a calming influence and an important part of the care team.

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and while their work never goes unnoticed, we take the time each year to recognize the work so many crucial team members do on a volunteer basis.

The OSUCCC – James is a large hospital, and “our volunteers help make it feel smaller and more intimate,” said Kathleen Kiene, program manager for volunteers, a division of the OSUCCC – James Patient Experience Department.

“Our volunteers build bonds with the patients and their families. And, in the midst of what can be a stressful situation, our volunteers add a layer of support and they can say, ‘I’ve been through this,’ and brighten people’s spirits,” Kiene said.

With the help of coordinators Regina Wicks-Frank and Christine Curry, Kiene has expanded the number of volunteers by more than 100 since the new home of The James opened in late 2014.

“I love the energy and enthusiasm of the staff and the volunteers, and the patients, and how we all work together toward one goal,” Wicks-Frank said.

All new volunteers undergo a two-hour orientation session.

“They learn about the James and the hospital environment, patient-privacy guidelines and safety and each volunteer is trained for their specific assignment,” Kiene said.

There are several different volunteer assignments. They include:

Way Finders and Escorts: Navigating the hospital can be confusing for first-time visitors. To help, volunteers are stationed in the lobby and in registration areas. They’re happy to give directions, and, quite often, escort people to where they need to go.

Chemotherapy Clinic Assistants: Chemotherapy can often take two, three or four hours. The volunteers help patients pass the time, distribute warm blankets for patients who are cold, pass out hot and cold drinks or even make a tasty grilled-cheese sandwich in a toaster oven. And, of course, they’re there to listen.

Surgical Visitors Lounge: Located on the fourth floor of The James, this large and comfortable lounge is where anxious family members and friends wait. “The key is listening,” Ransom said. “Everyone wants to be heard and all the doctors, nurses and therapists take the time to listen.” So do Ransom and all the other volunteers. “I start off by asking people how far they traveled to get here, that gets people to open up,” she said. Some people don’t want to talk — and that’s OK too, Ransom said.

Restful Nights: Nights can be a lonely and stressful time for patients, and provide another opportunity for volunteers to connect with patients. Volunteers go from in patient room to in patient room with carts loaded up with books and magazines, warm blankets, knitted hats, lip balm, lotion and all sorts of other things patients may want, such as decks of cards. “One of our patients taught one of our (Ohio State) student volunteers how to play cards, rummy I think, and they bonded over that and spent a lot of time together,” Kiene said. “Another volunteer sat and watched Jeopardy with a patient for several nights and they really bonded over that.”

Advisors: Due to their unique perspective, “we have several (patients and caregivers) who advise us on different committees and help us fill our surveys and review new educational fliers and weigh in from the patient perspective,” Kiene said. The OSUCCC – James also recruits volunteers to be Patient and Family Experience Advisors, who share their experiences with nursing and medical students during training events.

JamesCare For Life: Volunteers also help at the wide range of classes and other events offered by JamesCare For Life.

“We’re all fueled by wanting to help,” Ransom said. “If I can be a touchstone for families, that’s a nice thing to be.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the OSUCCC – James, please call 614-293-4663 or visit our volunteers page.