Volunteers’ Virtual Visits Brighten The Days For RVH Patients

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Some of the patients on the Specialized Seniors Care Unit are entertained by a virtual visit from St. John Ambulance pet therapy dog, Charlie.

Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) might not be permitting visitors right now, but that didn’t stop Charlie from paying a recent visit to five patients on the Specialized Seniors Care unit.

He didn’t slip by security and sneak into the health centre, he came in the same way many visitors do these days – virtually. And he did so with a ball in his mouth and his tail wagging.

Charlie, a bouncy golden retriever, is a member of the St. John Ambulance Pet Therapy Program and he virtually visits patients at RVH. His owner, Darlene Caven, an RVH volunteer, proudly runs him through his routine in the safety of her backyard, sharing the canine’s antics and loving nature with the seniors via Zoom. The seniors watch Charlie on a big screen in the activity room on the unit, safely distanced from one another, yet closely connected by their common enjoyment of watching the dog.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week is April 18 – 24 and during this time RVH officially salutes its more than 600 volunteers, affectionately known as the ‘Blue Brigade.’ Despite the fact volunteers have not been in the health centre for over a year they have been supporting RVH by creating 4,000 masks for staff to use out in the community and making afghans for patients in the cancer centre. The RVH Auxiliary continues its fundraising efforts through its Community 50/50 draw, the proceeds of which support the Auxiliary’s $5 million pledge to the Moments Matter campaign.

“This past year has been a little different as our volunteers are not in the building and I think I speak for everyone at RVH when I say we miss them. Although not onsite, our volunteers continue to support and inspire us from the safety of their homes,” says Janice Skot, RVH president and CEO. “We know how difficult the visitor restrictions have been for our patients so our virtual volunteer and virtual pet therapy pilot projects on our Specialized Seniors Care unit, are certainly bringing a little bit of comfort to our patients who are able to participate in the programs.”

Susan Goode is one of those patients. The senior had to give up her beloved cat, Sassy, and is currently in hospital, but she’s passing the time sharing cat stories with RVH volunteer Kate Cullen. The two meet virtually once a week and have found they are kindred spirits when it comes to felines.

“I think this is a great idea,” says Goode, of her weekly virtual visits with Cullen. “When I came into hospital I was really upset about giving up my cat and just to have someone to talk to who likes cats and understands what I’m going through, is very comforting.”

The volunteers in either the pet therapy or visiting pilot projects, are current members of the Blue Brigade who have adapted their volunteerism to the virtual format, and the RVH’s patients involved in the programs have taken to the new technology really well.

“These types of virtual visits really help reduce the loneliness many of our patients are facing. It gives them a different focus and someone new to talk to,” says Kristy Boyes, Behavioural Support Worker/Recreation Therapist on the unit. “Given this technology is new to some of our patients, they have shown appreciation and are willing to adapt and participate in the programs with great interest.”

But volunteering is a two-way street, and Cullen, a York University student who has been a member of the Blue Brigade for three years, is happy to be able to continue her volunteer work.

“I really love to still be able to spend time with people in the hospital. It is so nice for me to have the opportunity to chat

and share stories. It has been a long time of isolation for many of these patients during COVID, so I feel this is a very special opportunity for me,” says Cullen. “It does not replace in-person visits which I miss so much and can’t wait to get back to volunteer in-person at RVH.”

RVH’s volunteers are not just donning blue vests, as the members of the Board of Directors and Foundation Board also invest countless hours as governors, as well as the members of RVH’s many Patient Family Advisory Councils.

“Our volunteers’ expertise, vision and passion for RVH is both inspiring and invaluable. We can’t wait to see our beloved volunteers back in the health centre when it is safe. They are an integral part of TEAM RVH and we appreciate the amazing work they do and salute and thank them during National Volunteer Appreciation week,” says Skot.

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