Volunteers make valuable difference at CHOC
It’s late afternoon in the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department (ED) at CHOC Hospital, and things are very busy.
The line to register is a dozen-people deep and growing.
Masked up and wearing his CHOC volunteer uniform of light-blue polo shirt and khaki pants, Jack Bruno spots a pre-teen girl in a wheelchair whose mother gingerly navigates her around other patients and families.
“What happened?” Jack asks the pair.
Her stomach and leg hurt, the mother replies.
“We’ll get you checked out,” Jack tells them. “Here’s the line. Please wait here.”
Soon, another mother brings in a sobbing young girl with a sizable scrape on her cheek.
Jack chats with the mother and the girl calms down.
Fueled by a surge of respiratory viruses, CHOC’s ED, since early fall 2022, has experienced an historic spike in its daily visits and admissions, making the work of Jack and other ED volunteers more critical than ever.
Coupled with the rollout, in late September, of a complimentary coffee cart for patients waiting to see nurses and doctors, the efforts of Jack and other ED volunteers are making a big difference when it comes to customer care at CHOC.
“The volunteers bring so much to the table,” Angela Pantle, ED night nurse manager, says. “Just having more sets of eyes in the department has been so valuable.”
Volunteering inspired by loss
The loss of a precious life is, partly, what inspired Ron Ainsworth to start, in October 2022, as an ED volunteer.
In September 2019, Ron’s step-daughter, Kelly Lee Tarantello, died at age 32 after a life of health issues.
Ron first met Kelly when she was 6 years old. As a newborn, Kelly was admitted to CHOC with a heart defect, which inspired the longtime philanthropic activity at CHOC of Kelly’s mother, Delphine Lee, whom Ron later married.
Delphine, honored as the 2021 CHOC Gala Champion Honoree for her philanthropic efforts and impact on the community, began her generosity years ago in Kelly’s hospital room at CHOC when Delphine saw the need to establish a food voucher program after witnessing a fellow family who didn’t have money for the vending machine.
Delphine and Ron later established a cardiac emergency endowment to provide meals, transportation and cover other expenses for families whose children are admitted to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU).
The couple also made a transformational donation to support the buildout of 18 private rooms in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in 2007. The donation was named in honor of Delphine’s mother, Josie Y. S. Lee.
After Delphine made a substantial gift to support CHOC’s cardiac surgery services following Kelly’s death in 2019, CHOC’s gift shop — where Kelly spent many hours volunteering, and where Delphine recently started volunteering once a week — was renamed the Kelly Lee Tarantello Gift Shop.
“Kelly taught me so much about life, kindness, forgiveness and generosity,” says Ron, who roamed the halls of CHOC during Christmas as Santa Claus for 15 years before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that volunteer work.
Ron, a retired investment banker, volunteers Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m. in the ED, spending most of his time going room to room.
He will pop into a room and say: “I’m your volunteer. What can I get you?”
Says Ron: “Even if they don’t want anything, they’re very, very grateful, and I enjoy spending time with the families.”
Finding purpose in CHOC’s volunteer program
A personal loss also was a reason another ED volunteer, Steve Keller, got involved at CHOC.
Four years ago, Steve lost one of his two adult sons, Mark, who had battled substance abuse and mental health issues, in an accident. Mark likely was under the influence when he was walking and was struck by a car, Steve says.
“I enjoy helping people,” says Steve, who lost his longtime job at an office product company in 2013 after it was sold, freeing him up to spend some time volunteering. He started at CHOC as a volunteer that same year.
“I wanted purpose in my life,” Steve explains.
He started volunteering in the ED in 2015.
“I’m surprised when someone says, ‘Thank you very much,’” says Steve, who volunteers two days in the ED and one day in the main lobby. “I’m there to help.”
“What breaks my heart are seeing kids come in with mental health issues. I understand what it’s like to take a child to a psychiatric hospital. I have empathy for them.”
Building back up
Pre-pandemic, CHOC had some 1,100 volunteers in 42 different roles at 10 different locations, says Sheri Yamamoto, manager, HR Ancillary and Volunteer Programs.
The pandemic halted volunteer services for more than a year.
As recruitment efforts continue, the number is back up to some 420, Sheri says.
Some CHOC volunteers greet visitors as they arrive or escort families around the hospital. Others help visitors and families in the Family Resource Center.
CHOC volunteer Jack spent 39 years as a pediatrician and nearly 20 of those as vice president of medical affairs at an east coast hospital before he and his wife, Marti, retired to Orange County to be closer to their grown children.
That’s when Jack decided to give back by volunteering his time at CHOC. Among his many duties have been lead patient hospitality volunteer, in which he assisted families during the discharge process and ensured they got safely from their hospital room to their cars, and that nothing got left behind.
He also made rounds on various units in the hospital, checking in with families to see if there was anything they needed — even just a cup of coffee or break to have a non-medical adult conversation.
Jack loves the fast pace of the ED, where he has volunteered for five months.
“It’s been going well,” he says. “I started to do it because I wanted to be busier. It’s been non-stop.”
If small babies come in covered up, Jack likes to take a look at them.
“Just so I know the kid’s not blue,” he explains. “I’m a community volunteer, but I haven’t forgotten my medicine. I try to use my knowledge in a way that’s appropriate.”
Jack recently flagged a couple of kids with RSV who were really struggling.
“The staff appreciated it,” he says.
“Our volunteers are so helpful to our department and our staff and to the patients, of course,” Angela says.
“They really do it all. It’s amazing.
“You need a special type of volunteer in this setting,” she adds. “It’s not for everyone. The volunteers need to be calm and composed under pressure, be able to deal with a lot of stimulus and a lot of people coming up to them asking questions, and they need to be able to de-escalate someone who is angry.”
For Jack and Ron and Steve, being a CHOC ED volunteer is an honor.
“I think the Lord just brought me here,” Steve says. “I look forward to it. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d miss it.”