Danville hospital volunteers lighten patients' moods

Apr. 20—DANVILLE — Entering the OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville can be scary, upsetting and anxiety-ridden for some people.

They may be undergoing medical testing, getting ready for surgery or another procedure and a stay there, or visiting loved ones.

To assist the public and help ease some of those worries or uncertainties are the recognizable and sharply-dressed Red Vest Volunteers.

Three of those volunteers, Red Vest Volunteers, are John Kelly, Ken Pickard and Jim Mulvaney who have been affectionately dubbed "The Three Amigos" because they like to work together, joke around and lighten the mood for everyone they meet.

OSF officials say they are the perfect example of the volunteer spirit to recognize National Volunteer Week, which begins April 21. It's never too late to start to volunteer in your community.

The three usually are at the Danville hospital Wednesday afternoons and all day on Fridays.

Kelly, 80, was born and raised in Vermilion County. He had a lot of different jobs but retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections. He and his wife were always coaching football, baseball and doing other things with their two sons. They've always volunteered, he said.

"But this is probably the most rewarding job I've ever had, Kelly said.

He's been a hospital volunteer for 14 years and says it's the most rewarding in just interacting with the people.

"I could tell you 100 stories ..., but, you know, somewhere along the line they said it's more blessed to give than receive, well they're right, because we get more out of this," Kelly said.

"It really is enjoyable. I would miss this," he said. "It's just the group we've got and interacting with the people."

He jokingly said, "We dress nice so we can get away with murder (not literally) because they trust us if we dress nice."

Kelly said people don't know what they are missing if they are not volunteering.

Pre-COVID-19, the hospital probably had 30-35 volunteers, Kelly said. Now they are down to about 13 Red Vests Volunteers and 24 total volunteers. In 2023, the hospital had 31 volunteers, the youngest being a high school junior. The hospital sees about 175 volunteer hours a month.

Start of Red Vest Volunteers

Former Danville parks commissioner Ray Randall started the separate Red Vest Volunteers, and they have continued.

Kelly said one story that's really touched him in volunteering is taking a cart around to the hospital rooms once a day, which the hospital started several months ago. The cart has magazines, crossword puzzle books, Bibles and other items, such as guardian angel pins, that are given to the patients for free. One day Kelly went into the intensive care unit just as hospice left from talking to a 92-year-old man.

"He didn't want anything. He just wanted somebody to listen to him," Kelly said. "So, I sit down and we talked. And the only thing he was worried about was his 93-year-old wife at home and how she would survive when he's gone. And that's what he wanted to talk about. Sometimes you just sit and listen."

Kelly said nurses and certified nursing assistants also are a special breed of people.

"So, anything we can do to help them make their job easier, or sometimes we do things to lighten their load, like give them a laugh, in good taste," Kelly said.

Pickard, 81, was born and raised in Danville and is a retired project engineer for Quaker Oats. He retired in 2004 and didn't do anything for a couple years. Then a Red Vest Volunteer got him involved. He's been volunteering for 18 years.

"I found out that it was so much fun," Pickard said. "It is a blast."

He said first comes the patients.

"That's our job," Pickard said. "And our job is to make them happy because they go through a lot."

He also really enjoys the people he works with.

"This is a ball," Pickard said. "But it's a lot of work."

He said it's been a fun and unique experience.

He said there's too many stories he could tell about his volunteering.

"Every person we take is special," Pickard said.

"I'll do it until I can't," he added.

Mulvaney, 75, is from Chicago and came to Danville in 1976. He started as a trust officer and worked for two law firms for about 18 years. Then he went back to banking and retired in 2019.

In 2021, when COVID-19 restrictions lifted, he started to volunteer.

He had been involved with the hospital for more than 10 years before that with different boards.

After one of those board meetings, Mulvaney asked who he would talk to about volunteering. He filled out the application and he laughingly said they erred and made an offer to him which they probably regret.

He started in May 2021.

In addition to Red Vests, Mulvaney also volunteers with the senior health insurance program and does insurance counseling for anyone at the hospital. He also has conducted some doctor tours of the area, which he really enjoys, when the hospital recruits doctors, and he takes them around the city.

rewarding work

"But (the Red Vest) work is really fun," Mulvaney said.

He said he knows a lot of the hospital patients and interacting with them when they're not feeling well, it's rewarding.

He said it's sad also because eventually they're going to die.

"You help them through those last months of their life, which is very rewarding," Mulvaney added.

He said they try to be happy, joke and kid with the patients and hospital staff and even make fun of them and tease them.

"People like to be teased. They really do," Mulvaney said.

Kelly said it takes their mind off other things.

Mulvaney said it makes patients feel like they're with them.

Mulvaney said the assistance the volunteers give to the hospital staff also is enjoyable. The volunteers can run errands for the hospital staff and do other things that the staff doesn't have to do.

The Red Vest Volunteers give valentines to the nurses and doctors. They've also given out Girl Scout cookies.

"It's helping the staff secondarily, but the patients first," Mulvaney said.

He too said there are a lot of emotionally touching stories he's experienced with patients. He said he'll talk about past times with ill patients, their families, and how they're feeling today.

Another gentleman comes in for therapy and the volunteers race out and try to be ready for him.

The patients become family, Kelly said.

"We want them to go out happy," Pickard added.

They said volunteering also is good exercise for them, walking around the building.

Jake Ozier is manager of the hospital's community resource center and community outreach, which includes a lot of different areas, one being volunteers.

"The volunteers play a vital role here at the hospital of our community caregivers," Ozier said.

The volunteers help navigate and bring comfort to the hospital's guests and patients and help the clinical staff as well, he said.

Ozier said they'd love to have more volunteers, and the hospital is flexible in how often volunteers can work.

He said they'll hear a lot of great feedback about the volunteers indirectly through the nurses who say patients will tell them that the volunteers meant a lot to the patients in their time at the hospital.

"They're just awesome and we appreciate everything they do," Ozier said of the volunteers.

To show that appreciation, the hospital takes the volunteers to the Beef House every year for a dinner, and has Christmas parties for them.

Ozier said that's not nearly enough. But Pickard said they get free lunches too when they work, and the work is rewarding enough.

For anyone interested in volunteering, contact the hospital at 217-443-5000 and ask for volunteer services.