FOR 12 hours, every day of the week, Whakatane Hospital’s emergency department has an extra pair of hands on board – a Friend of the Emergency Department, commonly known as a Fed.
The voluntary helpers, stationed at the department daily over three four-hour shifts, are part of the St John-based voluntary programme that operates in hospitals throughout the country. In Whakatane, the programme began in 2007, and today, 36 Feds in Whakatane cover the department between 9am and 9pm daily.
Two of the longest serving members in Whakatane are Lynne Hayes and Glennys Rogers, with Lynne having been in the first Feds training programme to be undertaken in Whakatane 12 years ago, and Glennys, joining shortly after.
Now, after more than a decade of voluntary shifts at the hospital’s emergency department, the two women’s focus is on running Whakatane’s Fed programme, with Glennys responsible for rosters, team leader, Lynne, for managing the programme, and collectively, running the training sessions for new recruits.
St John New Zealand says Fed’s aim is to provide comfort and support to patients and their families in hospital emergency departments,with some smaller hospitals utilising the service in other departments as well.
“In times of distress, people need more than treatment; they need information and support as well. Because emergency departments are always busy, staff often don’t have time to give patients and their families the support and reassurance they’re looking for.”
What this means on the job is “helping in any way we can,” the women says. “It could be helping someone contact a family member or friend or helping them contact a neighbour to feed their pet,” Lynne says. “It could be looking after young children who are in the department with an admitted parent or making visitors a cup of tea.”
“We’re not involved with anything medical at all,” Glennys says. “One of the most common requests from a patient will be for a drink, but that’s one request we can’t meet unless a patient has been given permission.” She says, often, Feds will spend time just talking to patients.
“Often that is what they want,” Glynnis says. “I once had someone say to me, ‘please don’t go. While I’m talking to you, I don’t feel the pain’. Sometimes we’re just offering a distraction.”
On a quiet shift, Glennys and Lynne say Feds are also very happy to help nursing staff in any way they can. “It’s not in our role, but really, we’ll do anything we can to help. That might be changing a bed or refilling the bedside linen lockers. It could be helping with some paperwork or anything else.”
Recalling the introduction of Feds to Whakatane Hospital, Lynne says, initially, nursing staff were not that happy about them being there. “They’re professionals and we’re not, so I guess they wondered what we were doing there. They didn’t know how we would fit in and I guess we wondered that too.” But now, she says, “that’s all changed. I think they miss us if there is an empty shift”.
Lynne says Fed volunteers in Whakatane are mostly retired. “It’s not always the case, but obviously being retired means more available time.” With both men and women taking part in the programme, she says the role attracts those wanting to voluntarily support their community.
“We’re always looking for more people. Thirty-six is usually enough but we do still have the odd shift that we can’t fill.” Feds choose to do one shift a week, a fortnight, or sometimes once a month, though Lynne says they’ve also had people who will take on two shifts a week. “Everyone is different.”
People need excellent communication skills, to be friendly, confident, caring and compassionate, and have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others. And, adds Glennys, “they also need to be fit because you do a lot of walking”.
She says applications from interested people take considerable time to be processed, with a number of police, medical and other checks needing to be made, and training undertaken. “Not everyone is suitable for the role.”
Lynne says Feds get together several times a year for social events “because it’s the only time we all see each other”. Glynnis and Lynne recently attended a play therapy workshop to develop skills in dealing with young children admitted to emergency departments.
Interested persons can contact Lynne on 021 441297, or Glennys, on 308 5551.
More than 800 Fed and hospital friend volunteers are used in hospitals throughout New Zealand.