Hospital volunteer program struggles to bounce back

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteer program at Central Peninsula Hospital boasted a team of around 250.

They serve as greeters. They deliver coffee. They visit with guests.

At Central Peninsula Hospital, volunteers provide a variety of services every day to improve the patient and visitor experience. After the program was shut down for much of the last three years by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it has struggled to bounce back.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteer program at Central Peninsula Hospital boasted a team of around 250. With COVID-19 restrictions at the hospital, the volunteers weren’t able to work, and recruiting lapsed for nearly three years.

“The volunteer program was nonexistent back until October,” Volunteer and Community Service Manager Jim Childers said Tuesday. “In that time, we dropped down to about 110 volunteers. Now we’re back up to about 125.”

Of those, Childers said only around 15% are active on a weekly basis. Some others are involved in special programs and are only on call.

“We need everything from front desk greeters to gift shop workers to patient comfort,” he said.

Patient comfort, he said, is one of the bigger focuses of the volunteer program. They visit patients, talk to them, offer books and movies or play games. Anything the patients need.

“It takes a special kind of person to want to do that, because you can’t be shy,” he said. “Sometimes these patients don’t want to be bothered … other times they won’t let you go; they want the interaction.”

Volunteers also make up “No One Dies Alone,” where they’re called in to sit with patients who are in the last 48 hours of their life.

“That program is one that is dear to my heart,” Childers said. “You sit with patients that are passing away and they don’t die alone. … We do our best to make sure that nobody does.”

The volunteers also help out at Heritage Place, the hospital’s assisted living center. There, they help with bingo, lead song or go shopping with residents.

Paula Rohloff volunteers as an administrative assistant for the volunteer program. She said she started volunteering after she retired five years ago. When volunteers were able to get back to the hospital, she said she was “probably one of the first ones to get on board.”

In addition to working in the volunteer office, Rohloff said she visits the oncology department twice a week. She said she connects with those patients especially because of a family history with cancer.

“It really brings back gratitude for me because after working with them, they always are so happy that you got them a blanket or you got them a bottle of water. It’s just something I’ve been passionate about all my life,” she said.

Rohloff said that’s why she volunteers — it fulfills her, and she can see the appreciation in the patients.

Barbara Dilley, another volunteer administrative assistant, said she’d been volunteering since 2008.

“I love our hospital. I have had opportunities to see it in action, for other patients, for myself and for my husband, and I believe that Central Peninsula Hospital is pretty much one of a kind,” she said.

She attributed that to the hospital community, and to the volunteers — “the feel of people liking to give their time to help others.”

Childers said the volunteer program at CPH has a rich history. It started alongside the construction of the hospital, with the hospital’s Auxiliary selling clothes to summertime anglers to raise money for building materials. Before COVID, the program at CPH rivaled that of much larger entities in the Lower 48, Childers said.

Today, with the number of volunteers available, Childers said whole programs aren’t being run and lots of opportunity is being left on the table.

Childers’ said that they’re looking to see anyone and everyone volunteer. Growing the program even beyond where it was before the pandemic would only increase the number of opportunities for the volunteers to aid in the patient experience.

“Once we fill these roles we have other opportunities for expansion that we’re not able to fulfill right now — that we’re not even looking at currently because we don’t have the personnel to do that,” Childers said.

The volunteer population trends older, with an average age of 72. Some roles have traditionally been accessible to those with disabilities. Childers said there’s lots of room to get involved. The older patients at Heritage Place tend to especially appreciate teenagers, he said.

“There’s a spot for everyone, and we love to have a diverse group here,” he said.

Childers said they hold volunteer appreciation events — including a get-together and lunch next week. Those, too, are just now returning after COVID, but he said that around four should be held each year.

To get involved with the volunteer program at Central Peninsula Hospital, call 907-714-4543 or visit and click “about us,” then “volunteer.”

The positions that the volunteers are immediately looking to fill at the hospital are greeters at the main entrances, gift shop staff, coffee delivery, recycling and patient care. At Heritage Place, they need folks for bingo and gardening with the residents.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at