Inspira recognizes network of volunteers

South Jersey health care system provides meals, smiles for absent friends.

Inspira Health Mullica Hill recently held a trio of drive-through celebrations for its volunteer corps, many of whom hadn’t set foot on location since the beginning of the pandemic more than a year ago. In all, three such events were held at Inspira locations throughout southern New Jersey, recognizing roughly 800 members of the community who selflessly gave their time. More photos from the Mullica Hill event to come in the May 5 print edition of the Sun.

Despite cold and wind on April 22 that suggested late winter in New England rather than a South Jersey spring, a small cadre of employees from Inspira Medical Center Mullica Hill put on their best face (beneath masks, of course) and greeted a steady stream of cars transporting men and women who have spent years in service to the hospital.

The drive through event was just one of three held at Inspira locations, including Elmer and Vineland, to recognize the 800 dedicated volunteers who committed their time to help doctors, nurses and patients. 

“COVID requires us to do everything differently, and we’ve always recognized our volunteers. We usually bring them together to break bread, but this year we had to pivot to something different,” said Inspira Health Network’s Chief Executive Officer Amy Mansue on the day of the event.

“The drive up is just like how we’re doing (COVID) testing and shots and everything else, so we went ahead and moved to this drive up and it’s worked wonderfully.”

Many whose daily lives revolve around the Mullica Hill branch of Inspira haven’t seen much, if any, of the approximately 75 volunteers since the pandemic began last March. The April day  took on the feel of a joyous reunion rather than just a perfunctory presentation of a free lunch and casual conversation. 

For Jim Leonardo, who resides in West Deptford, the choice to volunteer with Inspira for the last six years was an easy one, borne of circumstance and geography. 

“It’s been our family hospital since I was born. My parents were sick and both went in there, and my daughter was born there, when it was called Underwood Memorial at the time,” he recalled  during a phone conversation with the Sun on April 28. 

Leonardo said it’s a shame that almost all volunteer hours had to be eliminated due to necessary COVID precautions, “but it’s out of our control, and I can understand why the hospital wouldn’t want us around, because a lot of us are seniors.”  

Still, he noted, “I get so much satisfaction out of helping people. Before the virus, we were able to be in direct contact with patients, and I like that, being in touch with people. I volunteered right at the front desk, rather than being behind the scenes.”

Inspira employees gather around the car of Mullica Hill branch volunteer Carolyn Hayes-Simmons (left) during a drive-through celebration on April 22 which recognized their contributions to the hospital’s mission of well being.

Mansue revealed that the hospital will closely monitor COVID numbers locally and regionally before anything close to the full number of volunteers can return. Even with a greater number of people who are fully vaccinated, there are a limited number of “safe” areas where volunteers can be placed at the moment.

Whenever the pandemic eases, Leonardo said he would be ready to go back and tap into that sense of satisfaction and appreciation that’s been long delayed. 

“To know that these little jobs we do are a great help to them fills me with a sense of pride,” he gushed. “I could be walking the halls and anyone could stop me and tell me, ‘Thanks for what you do.’”

Mansue also tapped into the idea that volunteers are often seen as equal partners along with nurses, doctors and others involved in the heady business of healing. 

“The thing about volunteering is, people think it’s about the volunteers and their work. But it’s just as much for us, and in engaging with them, they become part of our family,” she added. 

“We miss them very much.”