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Brring! Let the escorts do the walking through the halls of DHMC

It's the changing of the guard: a cluster of redjacketed men and pink-jacketed women swarms around a tiny table just off the main rotunda at DHMC. One crew of volunteer patient escorts has finished a four-hour shift and the next group is taking over.

The phone rings. One of the men answers it and scribbles some information on a white message pad. Then he grabs a wheelchair and heads for the elevator. He's on his way to Same-Day Surgery, where a patient who's ready to go home needs to be wheeled to the main entrance to meet his ride. Each time the phone rings the process is repeated.

Photograph: Mark Austin-Washburn

Of DHMC's 500 volunteers, the patient escort group is the biggest—there are about 80 of them. And soon there will be a need for 50 more, because the completion of the Project for Progress expansion will add 467,000 square feet of new space and four new entrances to staff.

The volunteers are eager for the challenge. "We work hard and we have a good time," says volunteer Philip Garran, who loves all the walking the role entails. He wears a pedometer and says that he walks between 3.5 and 4.5 miles during a typical shift. The phone rings yet again and he's off to meet another patient.

While the members of the escort team enjoy working with each other and getting a lot of exercise, what they find most satisfying is serving patients.

"Helping patients deal with their anxieties as they enter the world of the mega-medical center has been extremely rewarding," says Leon Mann, M.D., a retired physician who signed on as a patient escort soon after moving to the Upper Valley last year. A 1957 graduate of Dartmouth College, Mann was chair of ob-gyn at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland.

"The volunteer escort service is especially important [to patients], because the hospital is horizontally integrated—there's a lot of walking," says Frederick Appleton, M.D., a retired DHMC nephrologist who enjoys seeing former colleagues, and even former patients, during his weekly shift as an escort.

Some volunteers come from the ranks of former patients. John Weeks, a retired 1944 Dartmouth graduate who lives at the Kendal retirement community, is familiar with the facility since he's been a patient himself at DHMC.

Criterion: But being familiar with the Medical Center is not a criterion for the job. New escorts get plenty of training before they start. And neophytes also get paired with seasoned volunteers, like Rita Post, who's been a patient escort since she moved to the Upper Valley from Connecticut five or six years ago. Post is also a DHMC employee—a patient and family assistant in the surgery waiting room.

The escorts work in groups of three or four, in four-hour shifts. In addition to helping patients get from one place to another, they assist with patient discharges from the inpatient units; deliver medical charts and x-rays; and sometimes even witness legal documents for patients.

Same-Day Surgery is an especially heavy user of the escorts' services. "They are dedicated and hard-working," says Cindy Balduc, R.N., who manages the unit. "They're invaluable."

The patient escort service "is the volunteer placement where you learn the most about the Medical Center," explains Andrea Henry, the director of volunteer services. She invites anyone who's interested in becoming a DHMC volunteer to call 603/650-7056 or to e-mail her at Volunteer.Services@Hitchcock.org.

Laura Stephenson Carter

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