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Volunteers Are Part of the Team at the Regional Care Centers

Volunteer Voice - Fall 2010

MD Anderson’s regional care centers began with the Radiation Treatment Center in Bellaire in December 1999. Other locations, then-called satellite centers, followed as MD Anderson expanded its services into area neighborhoods in The Woodlands, Fort Bend, Bay Area, Sugar Land and Katy.

For these centers, volunteers came on the scene in 2004 and were initially placed in the Fort Bend and The Woodlands centers. Originally a program only available to volunteers who were members of the Anderson Network, volunteers are now assigned through Volunteer Services.

“In 2009, program responsibility for the regional care centers was transferred from the Anderson Network to the Volunteer Services recruitment and training team,” explains Susan French, executive director of Volunteer Services. “The transfer of the program to Mary Donnelly Jackson, program coordinator for recruitment, placement and training, allowed us to develop volunteer positions to meet the individual needs of each regional care center, to support the training required for offsite programming and to offer opportunities for experienced volunteers.”

Margaret Looper, a retired school principal and a former MD Anderson patient, was the original volunteer at The MD Anderson Regional Care Center in The Woodlands. Her initiative shines through in her work as she has taken on “whatever needs doing.”

Beyond the normal responsibilities of putting together packets of educational materials, stocking supplies and visiting with patients and caregivers, Margaret goes the extra mile with her volunteer work. She is especially impressed by the bell ceremony, which is held for every patient completing radiation, and feels that everyone should have a memento from this occasion. She has created special key chains with versions for men, women and breast cancer survivors that she presents each time a patient rings the bell.

However, she hasn’t stopped there. When Margaret realized that some of the patients who had lost their hair were cold, she got her niece’s church group to crochet hats so the patients could stay warm. The demand increased, so Margaret began to make hats and she says that patients also donate them from time to time. She got her own church group involved and they make heart pillows for breast cancer patients.

Staff members are not forgotten either. Margaret makes certain that everyone is recognized on their “special days” with cards and sometimes flowers or refreshments.

“I watch and look for what’s needed and they just let me,” Margaret says. “Although I do work part time training teachers, volunteering is my real job. I just love it.”

While the number of volunteers in our regional care centers is a small group, the position is growing. Jackson, program coordinator for the program, says that the 20th volunteer in a center was placed in September. The number of patients reached by the program is also growing. Volunteer patient and caregiver contacts for the regional care centers were more than 650 during the month of September.

“The role of the volunteer in the regional care centers differs from that of a volunteer on the main campus,” Jackson reports. “The shifts may be shorter, adjusting the positions to meet the needs of the regional care centers. In addition, there may be only one volunteer on site so they have varied responsibilities to perform. Many patients also come alone to the centers and stay for brief amounts of time so there is sometimes less involvement with the patient and caregivers.”

Although these volunteers typically report to the nurse manager at the individual centers, Jackson is the volunteer coordinator for the whole program. She also serves on the regional care centers’ communication team along with representatives from Physician Relations, Communications, Marketing, Patient Education and others.

One new aspect of the placement is that the volunteers in the Regional Care Centers are no longer required to be survivors or Anderson Network members. The only stipulation is that they must have volunteered at the MD Anderson Main Campus.

Currently, the goal is to “circle the city” with MD Anderson cancer treatment and care, according to Kent Postma, director of clinical business operations for the Regional Care Centers. The centers average 180 patients daily and 33% of all 
MD Anderson radiation treatment is done here. From the original “only radiation” concept at the Bellaire center, surgeons have now been added to both the Katy and Sugar Land centers, and plastic and reconstructive surgery services are also being brought on. In addition, Postma adds that “suspicion of cancer” patients are being seen regularly.

At the Regional Care Center in Katy, Bob and Judi Fletcher are busy giving back. Energized by the care that Judi received as a former bladder and breast cancer patient at MD Anderson, the couple has teamed up together to support all survivors. They both say that they are excited to be a part of the growth of 
MD Anderson.

Kay Westfall, who was treated at MD Anderson in 2004 for inflammatory breast cancer, enjoys the opportunity to give back. She explains that when she was a patient, the relief she and her husband received from the coffee cart made her realize that volunteering was something she wanted to do when she recovered.

“Look Good … Feel Better [a program of the American Cancer Society in partnership with Volunteer Services that teaches beauty techniques to cancer patients to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment] is my baby,” says Westfall, “and I make sure that we have the kits and supplies necessary. I also put together patient education materials, stock supplies, answer the phones – generally anything that they need me to do. Occasionally, I talk with the patients because sometimes they just need an ear.”

Volunteers are obviously of growing importance to the regional care centers and any main campus volunteer who would like to give time to this effort is encouraged to contact Mary Donnelly Jackson at 713-792-3792 or by e-mail for training and placement.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center