Mayo's volunteer support system 'second to none'
Vernida Maley and Linda Ward couldn't help but smile as they watched hundreds of Mayo Clinic volunteers filter past their table Thursday at the Rochester Event Center.
With dozens of knitted items on display, the team leaders recognized many faces involved in their efforts to create handicrafts for patients within Rochester's hospital system. About 500 people showed up for the annual recognition luncheon, or about a third of the volunteers who contributed the equivalent of $3.2 million of support to the Mayo Clinic system.
"It's very gratifying to know they appreciate what we do," Ward said. "It means a lot to our volunteers."
Among the latest additions to the handicraft collection are so-called distraction aprons and autism blankets. Surgical hats for kids, so the youth can mimic the look of their surgeon during their procedures, also have exploded in popularity.
The distraction apron is in the trial phase, but it's believed to be a solution to an ongoing issue reported by Cindy Sweeney, the nurse manager for the neurology/rehabilitation department, that's led to longer hospital stay for patients with neurological issues and head trauma.
Miley, Ward and their staff of volunteers have crafted 10 of the 40 distraction aprons, which are meant to keep hands occupied rather than pulling out IV or catheter lines. Each one takes more than four hours to craft before being presented as a gift to patients.
"These specially made aprons allow the patients' hands to stay active without pulling out the IV lines, ultimately decreasing hospitalization," Mayo's press release said. "This has sparked the design of a lap blanket for pediatric autistic patients."
The distraction aprons and heavier lap blankets are among the 18,477 items that were sewn, knitted or otherwise crafted in 2015 by Mayo Clinic's legion of volunteers. Vivian Williams, the former KTTC reporter who was Thursday's keynote speaker, quoted many studies that showed volunteers generally live longer, are happier and have a reduced risk of depression, among other things, while their handiwork also has been shown to be beneficial for patients.
Chris Rustad, a Mayo Clinic administrator, told the gathered crowd that their ongoing efforts are unparalleled in the medical field.
"The visibility of our volunteers is very impactful and, quite frankly, second to none," Rustad said.
Many of the volunteers are retired, opting to fill their idle hours at home with crafting tasks. Maley and Ward facilitate that by distributing yarn, fabric and other items purchased with Mayo's profits from its two gift shops.
Those collaborative efforts helped set the stage for an estimated 139,700 volunteer hours from locals supporting Mayo Clinic, leading to numerous success stories.
"People appreciated it so much that you just felt so good when you left," Maley said. "Seeing and hearing the stories about how happy this has made people is so heartwarming."