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Celebrating Our People – Meet Gretchen

April 26, 2024 Posted in: Patients & Providers  3 minute read time

The volunteers at CHI Saint Joseph Health are special, and Gretchen King wants everyone to know it. 

“They volunteer because they feel a calling to come in and be there for our patients and their families, and even our staff. I hope that everybody can see how special our volunteers are and how much they help us,” said Gretchen, market manager of Volunteer Services and Annual Giving for CHI Saint Joseph Health Foundations

But as special as they are, most volunteers don’t need special skills, she added: “It doesn’t really matter what their history is or where they came from, if they have a calling to make a difference, we welcome them.”

Her goal, she said, is to let volunteers provide the nonclinical support so the medical professionals can focus on their jobs in serving patients.

The CHI Saint Joseph Health volunteer roster now has close to 250 volunteers, which “is a drop” from pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers, a common pattern among volunteer groups nationally, Gretchen said. Still, there currently are applicants waiting for spots. 

“We’re really working to put our volunteers back on patient care floors, not to do hands-on patient care but to back up our patient experience coaches. Our volunteers are a huge part of [the] patient experience. They add that extra touch—popping their head in a room to see how someone’s doing, sitting with someone who may be lonely, bringing a warm blanket, or a snack they’re allowed to eat.”

Gretchen King

In addition to managing volunteers, Gretchen oversees the CHI Saint Joseph Health gift shops, which are staffed by volunteers. “It’s a great opportunity for the volunteers, and for the hospitals, because proceeds from the gift shops go to support projects within our facilities,” she said.

Besides traditional roles on patient floors, some volunteers work as nontraditional volunteers, playing the piano in the hospital lobby; bringing a therapy dog to visit patients and caregivers; or as crafters, making baby hats for nurseries, caps and port pillows for those being treated for cancer, and fidget devices for patients with dementia or anxiety. They also craft pocket prayer quilts, containing a wooden heart and a card letting patients know they are being prayed for, and with information on contacting a chaplain during their stay. 

Other volunteers include college students interested in health care professions and high school seniors who volunteer in partnership with Fayette County Public Schools. “I am blown away by the selflessness of some of these kids—how much they want to help people and give of their time,” Gretchen said. 

The roster also encompasses spiritual care volunteers, who help chaplains; and compassionate companions who, for example, sit with patients who don’t have family.

Gretchen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Kentucky, worked as an event coordinator before joining CHI Saint Joseph Health in 2015, starting in Human Resources. She moved to the Foundations and volunteer management about four years ago.

“I love what I do. I love the work, and I love the people. They’re amazing,” Gretchen said. “The work that I do is definitely my ministry.”

The best part of her job, she said, is when volunteers come into her office “and tell me a story of how they helped somebody. That’s when I know what we’re doing is right.” 

Gretchen also helps with the service awards given through the ministry’s Human Resources department and serves on the Saint Joseph Spirit Team.

Outside of her job, Gretchen focuses on spending time with friends and family. “Family is important to me,” she said. She is the mother of an “amazing” adult son (also a Saint Joseph volunteer) who faces challenges due to an illness in infancy; and has a family member with a serious health condition. “I’m really grateful for where my life is because other people sometimes have a rougher road,” she said.

If you are looking for a unique opportunity to serve others, and at the same time make new friends and learn new skills, consider volunteering for one of our CHI Saint Joseph Health facilities. Learn more about our volunteer opportunities.

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