Growing role of hospital’s helping hands

The Canberra Region Cancer Centre treats cancer and blood disorder patients. KATE MEIKLE finds that the 50-strong volunteering team is at the heart of its operations.

Volunteers co-ordinator Caroline McIntyre, left, with volunteers Maddy Graham, Alex Worrell, Glenda Anderson and patient Phillip Weatheral. Photo by Andrew Finch

Volunteers co-ordinator Caroline McIntyre, left, with volunteers Maddy Graham, Alex Worrell, Glenda Anderson and patient Phillip Weatheral. Photo by Andrew Finch

ALEX Worrell and Maddy Graham are university students studying medicine and nursing. They’re also two of the 50 volunteers helping out at Canberra Region Cancer Centre.

“We see a lot of mentoring within the volunteer base, they nurture and teach each other and it works both ways with the younger and older volunteers,” says Caroline McIntyre, the volunteers co-ordinator.
The nature of cancer and blood disorders’ treatment is that the volunteers see the same patients on a regular basis. They help build up the patients’ support network and offer support.  

They say they receive positive feedback from patients and carers and are thanked so many times, the volunteers feel that they have contributed, she says.

The five-level centre, which opened at Canberra Hospital in 2014, brings together cancer treatment and related services in one purpose-built facility. Patients undergo treatment, day admissions and longer stays in the inpatient ward.
Caroline says the new facility created room for a volunteering program and expansion of their duties.

What started originally as a group of four volunteers serving patients their refreshments and lunches to relieve the nursing staff of this task, has now become a dedicated team of 50 with wide-ranging duties and responsibilities.
“The role of volunteers has evolved to be much greater,” says Caroline.
From greeting and directing people, to helping the busy clinics run smoothly, explaining the system, helping to wash patients’ hair, giving hand and foot massages, to spending time with patients and their families needing extra support, a walk or a chat, the purple-shirted volunteers play an integral role in the operation of the centre.  

“The role gives volunteers direct contact with the patients and staff,” says Caroline.
“Our volunteers range from university students to a lovely cohort of retired people, to mums with young children at school,” she says.
One initiative the volunteers spearheaded is the creation of an information lounge, offering an open space for patients to access a range of materials when they want it and use the computer to look up information on their condition or treatment. Caroline explains that the space was funded by the Dry July charity and the volunteers restock the materials.  

Caroline beams with pride when she talks about her dedicated volunteers.
“This program is an example of grassroots volunteering, helping people directly and making a difference,” she says.  
“The staff are so supportive of the program and we are so touched to see how engaged the staff are. We all enjoy working side by side.”
“All of us are making the patient’s experience of the centre the best it can be.”

Volunteer positions are available at the Canberra Region Cancer Centre. For more information contact Caroline McIntyre on caroline.mcintyre@act.gov.au or call 6174 8429.  

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