Some special volunteers have become a vital part of the family atmosphere on the Hemodialysis Unit at St. Paul’s Hospital.

In operation since 2013, the Hemodialysis Ambassador program is made up of volunteers who help those coming in for dialysis in a variety of ways – from portering to providing company.

Yasamin Bahman is one of the special volunteers who acts as a Hemodialysis Ambassador.

Yasamin Bahman is one of the special volunteers who acts as a Hemodialysis Ambassador.

Volunteers enhance the already warm and welcoming atmosphere on the unit and are available to help patients if they need water, a warm blanket, a snack or alert staff to other requests. The work they do provides an enhanced level of service to patients and by assisting with unit tasks, allow staff to tend to other priority issues.

Patients typically receive treatment three times a week for four hours each time, which is a long time to be sitting attached to a machine and unable to move around. Some patients have visitors with them, or have television to watch, but there are many who appreciate the company of volunteers to share stories, exchange recipes, discuss favourite shows, and talk about family. A few volunteers have even learned how to knit because of patients they’ve interacted with on the unit.

“Some patients find the supportive ear of a volunteer to be a comfort as they work through their own feelings about needing dialysis treatment,” Kathi Lewis, Site Manager for Volunteer Workforce at St. Paul’s Hospital.

The ambassador program was founded because staff on the unit identified a need for volunteer assistance.

“For years prior to starting the program, Volunteer Workforce received requests from staff to assist with helping patients to get to and from the unit,” Lewis explained. “Many patients are dropped off at the front entrance and are left to make their own way to the unit. We felt the only way we could accommodate these requests was to develop a structured volunteer program with structured shifts. The program started off as a means to assist patients getting to and from the unit and evolved into a program that provides companionship to patients and assists with unit tasks that help staff.”

“From the time I started working on the Hemodialysis Unit, I wished that we had volunteers, as I felt they would be a great asset to patients and staff,” said Cheryl Stewart, social worker on the Hemodialysis Unit.

Her wish came true thanks to the combined efforts of the Volunteer Workforce, Hemodialysis Unit, and Renal Services Patient and Family Advisory Council.

The ambassadors porter patients to the unit, and to the wards after treatment, run samples to the lab, help patients weigh-in and record their weights, and visit with them, among other duties.

“The ambassadors may think that the particular duty they are performing is small but the reality is that it makes a huge difference for staff,” Stewart said. “Patients and staff  are now asking me if we have a volunteer ambassador on their shift, as they appreciate having the assistance they provide.”

Volunteers are often greeted with big smiles and genuine appreciation from patients. The volunteers themselves often express how their interactions with the patients and staff have been life-changing.

“Many acquire a different perspective on life and health and gain a new appreciation for these precious gifts,” said Lewis.

What is unique about this role in acute care is that patients tend to receive treatment for long periods of time, so there is very much a family atmosphere among the patients, staff and volunteers on the unit, creating a more personal feel to a clinical environment.

“One word that consistently comes through when describing the ambassadors on our unit is ‘awesome’,” Stewart said. “We are so thankful for them, and grateful for all that they do. And we’re truly amazed by how generous they are with their time. We don’t know how we ever managed without them. They are truly valued members of the hemodialysis unit family.”

“This program has been extremely successful, thanks to our fantastic volunteers and the engagement and support of the staff on the unit,” Lewis said. “We are excited to see it continue to evolve and grow.”

The ambassador program runs from Monday to Saturday between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.