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Mercy's volunteers make the hospital a better place to be

Erma McManis is a familiar face around Mercy Regional Health Center. That’s where you’ll find her, six to eight hours a day, a whopping six days a week. She does just about anything the hospital needs: delivering mail and newspapers, ushering people in to see new parents and babies in the Birth and Women’s Center, lending a hand in the class for joint replacement patients.

And she does it all with a smile.

McManis works enough to make it a full-time job.

But she’s given every hour — all 5,500 of them over the last five-plus years — without being paid a single dollar.

McManis and her fellow volunteers are a fundamental part of Mercy…and of the community. Nearly 200 volunteers rack up 1,800 to 2,200 hours a month at Mercy. That’s more than 21,600 hours every year.

Crystal Bryant-Kearns, Mercy’s director of Volunteer/Guest Services, is inspired by the commitment she sees day in and day out from Mercy’s team of volunteers.

“They don’t get a lot for doing this, other than a ‘thank you,’” Bryant-Kearns said. “They’re here giving selflessly every day. I think it speaks volumes about the people we have in our community.”

Erma McManis: Finding Purpose

Volunteers such as McManis are usually pretty quick to downplay their role. To hear them tell it, they’re the ones getting the deal.

“I help people, take people where they need to go, talk to people. It helps me, too,” said McManis, a Manhattan resident since 1951. “It’s rewarding; you just feel so good about helping people. And for me, it’s payback for the time when people helped my husband and son when they were ill.”

McManis remembers how much it meant to have kind faces and voices around when her husband was suffering from Alzheimer’s and her son was battling cancer. It was these family health struggles that led her to become a Mercy volunteer in the first place. Having retired in 1980 after working at a local bank and at JCPenney, she needed something positive to focus on when her husband’s health started to deteriorate.

“God directed my path this way. My husband was in a nursing home and I was depressed,” she said.

McManis started giving her time at Mercy in fall 2006, and she hasn’t looked back. Her volunteering became even more important after she lost both her husband and her son within a 14-month period. Today, McManis views her role at Mercy as not only a blessing, but a purpose.

“It’s my life,” she said. “I just love what I do.”

Dale Shipps: A Family Affair

Dale Shipps has always been good with commitment. A Manhattanite since 1993, he has been married to his wife, Charlee, for almost 47 years. He is someone who Mercy’s patients and staff can count on. And that counts for a lot.

“I greet people when they first come in, find out what they’re here for, get them to the right place, deliver flowers — whatever they need to have us do,” said Shipps, who works at the information desk. “I like meeting all the different people that come in and trying to ease their anxiety.”

A former advisor in K-State’s College of Education, Shipps started volunteering at Mercy on the exact same day as McManis in August 2006…not long after his own retirement.
“I had too much time on my hands and decided I needed to do something, so I came to Mercy,” Shipps said.

For nearly six years, he has spent eight hours each week at the hospital, tallying a total of more than 2,700 hours. And a couple years after he started, his wife got in on it, too. Charlee Shipps, a former librarian at Northview Elementary, has been a Mercy volunteer in the surgery waiting room for more than three years. For both Dale and Charlee, it’s a way of life.

“Each day is different; you don’t know what to expect,” he said. “And that’s nice because it doesn’t get boring. I just really look forward to coming in each week.”

Scott Cooper: Doctor-to-Be

For the most part, Mercy’s volunteer team is made up of two different groups: retired community members such as McManis and the Shipps, and students in their teens and 20s. Bryant-Kearns says both groups are crucial to the hospital.

“The older population brings life experience and wisdom. They’re kind of looking back on their lives, saying: ‘I’ve had a good life; I want to give back.’ The college students and teens bring so much excitement about the medical field and just being here to help.”

Scott Cooper, a K-State junior in biology and pre-med, is in his fourth semester of volunteering at Mercy. An aspiring doctor, he wanted to get a real-life look at what it takes to make it as a physician.

“I knew I needed healthcare experience. And I’ve definitely seen a lot of that,” said Cooper, who grew up in Wichita. “The first two semesters, I was down in the Emergency Department. You can help change bed linens, make sure there are always plastic gloves and Kleenexes stocked in rooms — just little things that help out the nursing staff. But we could also ask the doctors to observe, and I was never told ‘no.’”

You can hear the energy and excitement in Cooper’s voice when he recalls the things he has seen, from an ankle reconstruction to a patient being revived before his eyes.

“Another way of looking at my volunteering was to test myself — to see whether I was called to be a doctor. And I really think it’s helped show me that I am. A lot of people want to be a doctor day one of college. But when you do these experiences, you get a feel for how difficult the job is going to be.”

For Cooper, the other main draw has been one-on-one contact with patients.

“The last two semesters, I’ve been on the medical/oncology patient care floor. My role there is to restock the medical supplies at each station. When I’m done with that, I get to knock on doors and just ask if there’s anything I can get for patients. That’s my favorite part. That’s when I get to chat with people if they want to chat. I don’t think anybody minds somebody offering help, no matter what they’re going through.”

Through volunteering, Cooper has confirmed where his career is headed, and he’s learned that he loves working with the elderly — leading him to add a secondary major in gerontology. He has even received guidance from the nurses, as when Dr. Matthew Foster in the ER suggested he go on a medical mission trip. (Cooper heeded his advice, taking a 10-day trip to Peru that was an “awesome experience.”)

Cooper enjoys volunteering at Mercy so much that he’s recruited a handful of people to join in: his roommate, a couple fraternity brothers, and even a high school friend.

“It’s an added bonus how rewarding it is. Even if I only have time to go into one or two rooms, that’s easily worth it. And that’s not even mentioning the appreciation the nursing staff shows. I love it here. I have another year in school, and I won’t stop volunteering.”

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