Volunteer Sammy truly shows "values in action"

29th October 2021

Sammy Mc Kee

Sammy joined the volunteer team at NHS Lothian in March 2020, as he was keen to support his local community and the NHS during the pandemic. Since then Sammy has given over 750 hours of his time volunteering twice a week (often three times a week) in a variety of roles and he has done all of this alongside family and other commitments and with continual professionalism and good humour.

From his first contact to date Sammy has embodied NHS Lothian’s values of care and compassion, dignity and respect, quality, team work, and openness, honestly and responsibility. Sammy has demonstrated his care and compassion for others as a volunteer in a care of the elderly ward where he supports patients (many of whom have complex needs) where he has volunteered since March 2020. He has consistently treated the patients with dementia using the meaningful activity centre at St John’s Hospital with dignity and respect spending time getting to know patients, their likes and interests and planning activities to do with them one-to-one or in small groups. Sammy has demonstrated his commitment to quality by actively participating in the Voluntary Services Team’s optional training programme giving up yet even more of his time to learn and develop his skills.

There is not a single person (staff or volunteer) who has worked alongside Sammy who would not agree that he is a team player. Sammy offering to change his usual volunteering site to support another volunteer who was lacking on confidence and his willingness to take on extra shifts to cover for colleagues unable to attend at the vaccination clinics are just two examples. His selfless offer to move things around to support someone else, gentle leadership and reassurance enabled that volunteer to grow in skills and even more importantly confidence. In addition Sammy is open to new ideas, honest about his experience and takes responsibly for the commitment he has made to those he supports. Sammy has two main roles with NHS Lothian as a Ward Helper in a Medicine of the Elderly ward In Findlay House and as an Activities Volunteer in the Meaningful Activity Centre at St John’s Hospital. Alongside these roles, he has also volunteered as a Vaccination Clinic Guide for 5 months.

In each of these roles, his volunteering was designed to achieve different things. The Ward Helper role aims to support positive health outcomes for patients by supporting day-to-day tasks and providing stimulation and to free staff time to allow them to focus on specialist tasks. Many of the patients in this particular area have complex needs which can result in challenging behaviour or low mood. The support provided by the Ward Helpers enables patients to maintain their abilities and physical health, to improve mood and to support patients in the most difficult of circumstance to have the best possible experience. This support also helps families of patients by allowing them to take breaks from visiting safe in the knowledge that their loved one will not be alone.

The Meaningful Activity Centre was developed to provide a therapeutic environment for patients within the hospital. Patients with cognitive impairment can frequently become distressed in the hospital environment as not all their needs can be met on a ward through a medical model. At the Meaningful Activity Centre, the volunteers aim to meet unmet needs that are related to boredom and lack of activity. However, it is not just playing some games to relieve boredom. By engaging in meaningful conversation and using excellent listening skills, the volunteers have been able to find ways to understand what is causing the distress of the person and to take steps to reduce distress. As a Ward Helper Sammy completes many practical tasks including helping with meal distribution and the tea trolley (key to tackling issues with dehydration common in hospital settings) and the mealtime tidy up after eating, he will support patients to eat by providing company, encouragement and also practical assistance having been trained to safely feed patients who need assistance.

Outside mealtimes Sammy will help with practical takes such as answering the door to welcome visitors, top and up supplies like hand gel, masks. However, the key to Sammy’s Ward Helper role is the building of relationships with patients so that he can support them in a person centred way through small therapeutic interventions such as taking a patient in a wheelchair to spend time in the garden, taking short walks in the ward to maintain mobility, reminiscence and conversation to maintain mental stimulation and support good mood, sitting with a nonverbal patient listening to music to calm and relax them. As a Vaccination Clinic Guide Sammy welcomes people to the clinics, guides them through the process giving explanations about what would happen next, how long things might take, giving directions, reassuring the nervous/making conversation with those who had been isolated often for months previously and supervising the post vaccination observation bay. Sammy’s cheerful manner and easy confidence help ensure that everyone feels valued and supported as they attend the clinic. At the Meaningful Activity Centre Sammy supports patients one to one or in small groups through a range of person centred activities. There may be games or bingo to enjoy, looking at books and newspaper articles from yesteryear, listening to music or even karaoke to some old favourites, afternoon teas and the occasional dinner dance.

Whatever the activity Sammy is there leading the way and encouraging everyone to get involved, working at the understanding, confidence and enthusiasm level of the patient so that they feel comfortable and have a good time. contribution is invaluable. While many of the patents Sammy supports are not able to articulate their gratitude verbally, it is obvious from the changes in their demeanour (not just while interacting with Sammy but following) that their time with Sammy has helped them to feel calmer, more settled and more at ease in the hospital.

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