Vail Daily column: Vail hospital launches employee volunteer program
August 23, 2014
VAIL — Margaret Brammer makes daily positive impacts on the lives of cancer patients and their families as Shaw Regional Cancer Center's social worker, yet she jumped at the opportunity to participate in Vail Valley Medical Center's new Corporate Volunteer Program.
In its first year, the Corporate Volunteer Program awarded 10 Vail Valley Medical Center employees a local volunteer opportunity of their choice and paid them for their time.
"Encouraging our employees to volunteer and serve outside the medical center helps recharge their spirits and reminds them why they got into healthcare and nonprofit work — to help people," says Vail Valley Medical Center President and CEO Doris Kirchner. "Our staff understands the value of giving back to the community, and I'm pleased they're taking advantage of this new program."
Refocusing on Life
Brammer and Elizabeth Anderson volunteered at Roundup River Ranch, a camp in Dotsero where children with chronic or terminal illnesses learn outdoor activities, make new friends and come home with a fresh sense of self-worth. This environment resonated with Brammer, who previously worked in a pediatric facility with similar children and observed first-hand the fear and sense of vulnerability keeping them from participating in standard childhood activities.
"Roundup River Ranch is the perfect response to all of this," Brammer said. "Their mission is to provide children with a place where they are the focus, not their illness."
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Brammer's role at Roundup River Ranch was cabin counselor for a group of 7- to 10-year-old girls called the Tumbleweeds.
"Truly the most rewarding aspect of this opportunity was watching these incredible kiddos come out of their shell, try new things and make new friends," she said.
The camaraderie forged between campers was brilliantly illustrated when one little girl noticed a scar running down the middle of another girl's chest and inquired what it was. The girl quietly replied that it was from her heart transplant.
"Immediately, the second little girl moved her shirt and said, 'Look, I have the same thing. It means we're brave.' These little, but meaningful moments happened every day at camp," Brammer said.
For Elizabeth Anderson, a registered nurse at Vail Valley Medical Center for 13 years, her volunteer experience at the Ranch — also supervising a group of young girls, administering their medications and tending to cuts and bruises — was equally life-changing.
"I developed a compassion, caring and perspective I didn't know I had," Anderson said, explaining the most poignant part of her experience was watching the children's spirits grow as they wrote poems by candlelight, seeing one girl stroll hand-in-hand with her new friend in a wheelchair or helping a 6-year-old fish for the first time as the child surprised everyone — herself most of all — by catching a fish.
"I will never forget that young girl, that grin, those sparkles on the water, that look of wonder on her face, that utter surprise," Anderson said. "That will forever remain imprinted in my head."
Four other medical center employees volunteered at Roundup River Ranch this summer. The Children's Global Alliance, Red Ribbon Project and Woodward at Copper Mountain are also beneficiaries of the medical center's new volunteer program.
Stephanie Eckles, a pre-op/PACU nurse at Vail Valley Medical Center's surgery center, has volunteered with the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado at Breckenridge Outdoor Education Camp for 11 years. This year, she dedicated her time through the Corporate Volunteer Program to campers affected by brain injuries, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, tumor, anoxia and infection.
"I have learned so much from each of my campers over the years, always leaving camp with a new pen pal, a feeling of humility, a calm I don't always get to feel, and a smile on my face," she said. "It's awesome."
Ranked among Becker's 150 Best Places to Work in Healthcare, the Vail Valley Medical Center believes creating opportunities like the Corporate Volunteer Program will only make medical center staff better at their jobs.
"It reflects the culture and values of our hospital while adding benefit to the communities we serve," said Vail Valley Medical Center Employment Manager Jaime Paulus, who helped mastermind the volunteer program. "Our goal is that this program will elevate employee morale, enhance skills and connect our employees with other local nonprofits."
Guess what? It's working.
"In healthcare, at times it can be easy to get bogged down. Having an opportunity to take a step back, gain a little perspective and translate it into a positive work environment can assist with preventing compassion fatigue and re-energizing the team as we are reminded of why we do what we do," Brammer said.
Eckles seconded that, saying, "When I come back to work after a session at camp, other than being extremely tired, I feel rejuvenated! I can honestly say my level of patience has grown, I have a lightness to my step and a new-found appreciation for life."