Mary Hunter has been a volunteer at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center almost since the day the hospital opened its doors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For the past 43 years, the 98-year-old has spent a day a week helping patients navigate the long hospital corridors to their rooms.
“I like the people I work with and I feel like I’m helping out,” said Hunter, who turns 99 on May 10. “My driver’s license is good until I turn 101, so I can still come here for a couple of years,” said Hunter, who drives herself 28 miles round-trip from her home to the hospital every Tuesday morning.
Hunter started volunteering at the hospital in 1972, a year after her husband died, because she was feeling lonely. Now, she’s part of a larger family of other volunteers and hospital staff.
“Mary doesn’t miss a beat,” said Audie Delouise, the manager of patient placement at Novant Health Forysth Medical Center. “She pushes people three times her size in their wheelchairs.”
“She’s dedicated. She does it right,” said Luann Vanhoy, an administrative assistant at patient access who has worked with Hunter since her first day of volunteering. “I don’t remember her ever taking a sick day.”
Hunter credits her vitality and good health on “clean living,” though she admits having a weakness for sweets. She still reminisces about the birthday cake Dewey’s Bakery gave her to celebrate her last birthday. She shared it at the hospital but had plenty left over to savor at home.
For this upcoming birthday, another volunteer joked they’d be getting a stripper to come to the party. “I’ll be sure to be there for that. Just don’t tell the people at my church,” Hunter quipped.
She appreciates the friendship of her fellow volunteers, the hospital staff and the patients. “All the patients are really nice," she said. "In 43 years, I’ve only dealt with two ugly patients.”
Hunter is one of roughly 700 volunteers at Forsyth Medical Center, according to Susan Parks, manager of volunteer services. In the summer, about 150 high school-aged students participate in the junior program after completing a comprehensive and rigorous application process.
The adult volunteers are rigorously vetted, too. “They have to represent Novant Health’s values and show compassion, a respect of diversity, caring and customer service,” said Parks. Volunteers submit to background checks, occupational health assessments and a general orientation similar to the health system’s new employee orientation. “The volunteers have to be committed,” Parks said.
The volunteer auxiliary has been operating at the hospital since 1964 and still has a few original members, according to Parks. The volunteers help staff throughout the medical center in more than 50 locations.
“We really wouldn’t have anyone available to escort patients if it wasn’t for the volunteers,” Vanhoy said. Volunteers benefit from the experience as well. It keeps many older volunteers active and engaged. In addition, they look out for one another and support each other, Parks said.
Certainly, it has helped Hunter stay active and happy. She cautions, however, “these halls are getting longer all the time.”