NEWPORT- Merrilyn Barry, Director of Volunteers at North Country Hospital (and also business manager for the Wellness Center), coordinates dozens of volunteers working in different capacities at the hospital. One group of retired volunteers works in a variety of positions including the gift shop, information desk, stock room, library, dialysis, physical therapy, information systems, and by shredding documents and helping out in the waiting room. Volunteers work four- or five-hour shifts depending on need and the area where they work.
While meeting and greeting people in the waiting room is the most visible function performed, much of the work they do supports different departments in the hospital. For example, volunteers who work at the information desk also deliver flowers and mail to the patients. Volunteers in the waiting room attend to family members, bring patients from the ward to the lobby, or help collate paperwork. Another important function is to witness legal documents such as living wills. By law, employees of the hospital cannot witness a patient's legal document.
Junior Volunteers, ages 14-18, work after school for a couple of hours. These volunteers work the floors, offering water or juice to patients or delivering mail. Other duties include working in the dietary department, helping to sort silverware or preparing trays for patients.
The volunteer program probably began at the former Newport hospital and continued at the new location. Barry started working with the program 35 years ago when it was being run by the Ladies Auxiliary.
“Originally the director served a two year stint and then a new person would be chosen to the position,” said Barry. “But I wanted it to be a career, so they agreed to start me at 15 hours per week.” About five years later the hospital established the Wellness Center and Barry became a full-time employee, with two job titles.
Barry estimates that at least ten of the volunteers are over 80 years old – and going strong. One volunteer who works in the gift shop has been working with Barry since she started there 35 years ago. Marie Nielson is over 90 and works a shift every week.