Volunteers vital part of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center | SteamboatToday.com

Volunteers vital part of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center

Annette DellaCroce volunteers every week at the information desk at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Every Friday, Nancy Bretz spreads a selection of books on the round table at the Community Health Resource Center.

There is one about cancer staging, "so you don't just have to rely on an oncologist," Bretz said, and a children's book titled "Stem Cells are Everywhere."

There are two medical journals, the DVD "Tuesdays with Morrie," a book about how doctors think and a book by a local author whose daughter died as a result of anorexia.

"I firmly believe in an informed patient," Bretz said.

Bretz has been donating her time at the hospital for 21 years and is part of a team of 114 volunteers who help make things run smoothly across the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

She spent her career in medical research and now spends her weekly shifts preparing research packets for those who want to know more about any health-related topic. Bretz is the coordinator of the resource center, which is located in the outpatient pavilion. The volunteer-run space is used by hospital staff and patients but is open to, and primarily utilized by, the wider community.

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And Bretz wants to further get the word out about the value of the depth of information available to everyone at no cost.

A recent visitor with atrial fibrillation came to Bretz because she was about to receive a final treatment and didn't know what it entailed.

Bretz educated herself before giving the patient five publications.

The center isn't meant as a medical consult, UCHealth YVMC Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek noted, but rather a gateway for people to access varying sources of information and better educate themselves.

At the end of each month, Bretz prepares a report for the hospital on how many visitors she receives and what type of information they are seeking.

Calling Bretz dedicated to her role and her clients would be a vast understatement. She is passionate and resolute about the value of self-education when facing any kind of illness. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Bretz read 28 different publications and concluded she needed a combination of two treatments to survive. She then sought a hospital willing to provide those.

Now she is diving into stem cell treatment for knees — a topic she has found to be cutting edge and exciting but also minimally understood by the general public.

Bretz, who is retired, said she also enjoys the distraction of working in the center and "not thinking about myself and the world and its problems — the day flies by."

She also likes keeping up on the latest research. “You’ve got to keep your brain active,” she said.

The volunteers working throughout the hospital range in age from 18 to 91, and more than half have been volunteering for more than 10 years.

There is also a wide range of roles they fill, from helping patients and their families get oriented in the Emergency Department to providing therapy in the form of happily wagging pups with the Heeling Friends program.

Annette DellaCroce has been volunteering at the information desk in the outpatient pavilion and the resource center for the past two years.

She recently retired and, after spending some time in the hospital with an ill family member, decided she liked the friendly environment and wanted to contribute.

Her primary duties are to meet and greet people and direct them to the right location. She also helps with clerical projects. The information desk is entirely staffed by volunteers.

"It's important to have a friendly face when people walk in," DellaCroce said.

When someone comes through the doors, possibly nervous about a procedure, "Just giving them a smile when they walk in sounds small but is really pretty big," said volunteer services coordinator Peggy Bowers.

One of the most coveted positions, said Bowers, is behind the cookie cart, delivering both smiles and cookies to patients.

There's also the indispensable "kiddie kuddlers" at the Grandkids Child Care Center, about 15 of whom spend two to four hours a shift doting on the hospital's cutest occupants.

It's also a very popular position, Bowers said, and from infants to toddlers, there is always a need for more playmates and attention-givers.

The average age of volunteers at the hospital is 65, including many retirees with advanced degrees and backgrounds related to the medical (or childcare) industry. On average, volunteers provide 860 hours per month, according to UCHealth YVMC Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek. For 2018, volunteers will contribute a projected 10,324 hours, or the equivalent of five full time employees.

Bowers said she welcomes people from all walks who "want to stay connected, have the opportunity to learn something new and challenge their minds while, at the same time, connecting with people and meeting that social need." The volunteer program provides patients and the hospital as a whole with an extra layer of support and kindheartedness and, Bowers has observed, can provide volunteers with an "amazing sense of fulfillment."

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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