New hospital recruits more junior volunteers

Ten students from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay are volunteering at the Haida Gwaii Hospital/Ngaaysdll Naay.

From left to right are junior volunteers Caden Ives, Emma Mitchell, Isabella Perry, Crystal Murphy, Isabelle Romas, Noel Strombom, and Kenny Brillon. (Submitted)

Haida Gwaii’s newest hospital has a whole lot of new volunteers.

Ten students from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay just started volunteering after school at the Haida Gwaii Hospital/Ngaaysdll Naay this month, mainly to visit with everyone who lives in long-term care.

“When they see these young people come in, it remind them of their youth — it’s a new face, someone interesting to talk to,” says Ellen Foster, who co-ordinates the junior volunteer program.

“It’s just spectacular what happens.”

All the students are in Grade 11 or 12, and they sport blue T-shirts and an ID card while they’re on the job. They go through a formal interview, get a tour of the hospital and health centre, and sign a pledge to respect confidentiality rules.

While they don’t get directly involved in medical care — on a typical day, students might read, chat, or play games with long-term residents — Foster said the volunteers are a great comfort to residents. They learn a lot, too, such as how to speak with someone who has advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s, and the kind of daily tasks or activities that help them interact.

Two of the junior volunteers, Kiya Bergstrom and Meaghan Munt, are returning for a second year, and half have said they’re already interested in a healthcare career. Volunteering gives them a chance to see firsthand what some of the options are.

“Most people think when you work at a hospital, you’re either a nurse or a doctor, maybe an X-ray tech,” said Foster, who works as an administrative assistant and practice support coach.

“I don’t think people really know how many jobs there actually are.”

Unlike a large city hospital, Ngaaysdll Naay is small enough that volunteers can meet with most of the staff to learn about what they do, whether it’s speech therapy, physiotherapy, or home-care nursing.

The new hospital also has a much larger long-term care wing than the old Queen Charlotte Hospital did, which is partly why the junior volunteer program could recruit more students this year.

Foster said everyone in long-term care loves the new space, especially the large common area, which the old hospital was missing.

“They eat together — it’s like a family now,” said Foster, adding that the great big windows also have the best ocean view in town. On bright days with the blinds up, it’s not unusual to see residents basking with sunglasses on, like it’s a day on the beach.

Before moving to Haida Gwaii in 2009, Foster worked at the Prince George Regional Hospital, where at one time she managed 85 volunteers.

One was Danica Buxton, who told Foster at 15 that she wanted to be a nurse.

“She knew from the age of four or five that’s what she wanted to be,” Foster said.

Weeks ago, after hearing about a new nurse who had just arrived on Haida Gwaii, Foster got a surprise at the hospital when Buxton suddenly ran up to meet her. Over coffee, they talked about how 10 years later, she is doing just what she set out to do.

Foster said meetings like that give her a warm, fuzzy feeling — it’s great to see volunteers go on to good careers they’ve wanted to do for a long time.

But whether they go into healthcare or not, Foster said all the students take pride they work at the hospital.

“They’re proud to be part of something bigger than them,” she said. “It’s a team thing.”

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