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A toast to the hosts

Volunteer Voice - Fall 2012

Volunteer floor hosts, bilingual floor hosts and patient advocates make a difference

Related story:
Speaking from the heart

You can see them, day, evening and weekend, as they leave the offices of Volunteer Services carrying MD Anderson resources, newspapers, magazines, television guides, toiletries and fliers with special announcements. Since the 1950s, these volunteer floor hosts have been on the go and ready to engage with inpatients and their caregivers.

Evening floor host and patient advocate volunteer Lexus 

Aiming for friendly visits with easy conversation filled with laughter and occasional tears, the floor hosts make their rounds and often get to know patients on a more personal basis due to the nature of their volunteer placement.

Caring and sharing

“When I began floor hosting, I visited with a patient who was at MD Anderson,” says Lexus Bradford, an evening floor host. “I stayed to talk for almost 30 minutes and learned her life story. As I was leaving, she told me how grateful she was for my visit and how happy she was with her care at 
MD Anderson. From then on, I realized what an impact I could have on patients just by showing that I care.”

Many floor hosts are cancer survivors or have been with a loved one undergoing treatment, so they bring unique insight about the cancer journey with the patients they meet. Often, this creates an immediate bond during a visit between the patient and the volunteer. Volunteers comment that the work is all about listening to the patient, something that’s easy to do because they understand.

Daytime floor host, now patient advocate, Lori Valencic and her husband, a seven-year survivor, are both volunteers. Lori explains that she learned that the patient she was visiting was an avid ham radio operator. Because her husband is also a “ham,” Lori connected the two and they shared their experiences during many inpatient treatments.

As a floor host, the volunteer’s primary role is to provide resource referrals and conversation during visits with inpatients, which means one-on-one interaction with patients and often with their caregivers, too. From a simple visit to delivering requested items and offering resource referrals, a floor host can be a patient’s connection to the world both inside and outside the hospital.

Volunteer Services also has a much-needed program for bilingual floor hosts. Maria Aranguren meets many people who come from her home country, Venezuela, to MD Anderson for cancer treatment. “I see this as an opportunity to help them and I’ve learned how satisfying that can be,” she says.

Patient advocates step in, too

The Volunteer Patient Advocate program was piloted in 1992 with five experienced volunteers on one floor of the hospital. Working closely with the Patient Advocacy staff, they served as liaisons between the patients and staff. In addition to serving as floor hosts, they resolved complaints and handled special requests of a non-clinical nature. This important program continues today.

Daytime floor host and patient advocate volunteer Lori 

Patient advocates, who have all served as floor hosts, step in to interact with inpatients and their caregivers when a problem or complaint has been identified and they are called on to facilitate the resolution.

In addition, the advocates visit with inpatients and caregivers to develop relationships and to answer questions about the hospital. When there is a complaint or concern, the volunteer’s job is to document the issue, including any resolution and/or referral information, and report to Patient Advocacy for follow-up.

“Being the voice for those who can’t or won’t speak up is one of the best parts of my volunteering,” says patient advocate Monya Schwartz. “The days when a patient looks at you and says ‘thank you for volunteering’ are the days I know I have helped a patient — and those are the best days.”

What’s not to like

Volunteer coordinators for floor hosts, bilingual floor hosts and patient advocates conducted a survey in 2011 to help identify opportunities to increase volunteer retention in these programs and also to show volunteers that their opinions are valued.

“What I like best about the floor host program is the opportunity to just ‘be there’ for patients, to try and brighten their day and just listen,” reports one volunteer. “Truthfully, it feels like I get more out of it than I give —what a bonus!”

Other volunteers say that they learn from the training they receive in the program, enjoy the visits they have with the patients and appreciate the help of 
MD Anderson staff.

Adding to the team

As MD Anderson grows, Volunteer Services also increases the numbers of floor host and patient advocate positions needed to serve patients and caregivers. Volunteers placed in these positions soon learn that they receive as much as they give.

Current volunteers often mention that helping a patient cope with what is happening and just doing little things can help make a patient’s day better — and that works the other way, too.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center