Women join in hospital patient escort program

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
Keesler Medical Center can take credit for another "first." Women have now joined the ranks of the medical center's volunteer patient escorts.

Close friends Victoria Todd and Penny Hershberger began escorting patients to appointments, frequently via wheelchairs, at the end of May, becoming the first women to do so since the service began in 1980.

Explaining her desire to become a volunteer escort, Todd said, "My husband lives the blessing. People helping people receive more than they give. I wanted to share this experience with him though he has a 33-year start on me."

Dean Todd, who retired as a lieutenant colonel and chief of the former student affairs division, has volunteered with the Keesler Medical Center for 33 years.

"Upon his active-duty retirement in 1980, he became one of the original nine men who started the medical escort service," Victoria said. "They were responsible for moving patients, using wheelchairs and gurneys, to and from wards and clinics."

The medical escort service started with a small room and a phone on the fourth floor. The volunteer escorts provided a five-day schedule and Dean's highest single-day patient movement was 61 assists.

"Thirty-three years later, he remains active in the program," said Victoria."If you're in the hospital on Thursdays, he is one of three volunteers working at the outpatient clinic entrance information desk. Their responsibilities have not changed much with the exception of answering questions. Due to a more visible location, they direct, guide and inform patients and visitors while in the medical center."

She continued, "Dean has wanted for years to see the escort program develop positions for women to serve in the same venue."

Victoria became an escort volunteer because of "watching my husband leave our home at 6 a.m. over the years with the enthusiasm of a child that wants to go to school for the first time and come home tired with the most amazing smile. He would tell me that there was an unbelievable satisfaction and joy in helping others. He was receiving more by giving.

"I wanted in on this kind of blessing and after three days of volunteering and 35 assists of my own, I discovered he was right. When he would leave in the mornings, I would always tell him to 'play nice and be in before dark.' When I was leaving to volunteer for my first Tuesday morning, my Dean said, 'Do you have lunch money? And, by the way, play nice and be in before dark.'

"What makes this journey even more exciting is that I am doing it with another best friend, Joan 'Penny' Hershberger. We have known each other for over 20 years. We attend the Larcher Chapel and all three of us sing in the choir and have traveled to Europe in this friendship. We all serve on the board of the Gulf Coast Community Concert, host dinner parties together and now we are Keesler Medical Center's 'Team Escort."

Victoria added, "Our motto should be 'You Call, We Wheel!' The hope is to not only have the wheelchair service, but we want to be active in transporting people to and from the hospital parking lots.

During her first day, Victoria tallied three wheelchair details and escorted 12 people to clinics.

"Some did not require a wheelchair," she pointed out. "However, walking them there reassured them they were in the correct clinic and that they would be on time."

In addition to being a medical center volunteer, she also has volunteered with the Gulf Coast Community Concert Association as a 10-year board member and at Larcher Chapel for 38 years and is a volunteer instructor and teacher for sewing, master gardening , painting, wood working and decorative cement.

Penny commented, "I was a part of a military family for over 26 years before my late husband, Col. David Hershberger, retired and we settled in Ocean Springs. He was the commander of Keesler's communications squadron and I was a school counselor at Magnolia Park Elementary School in Ocean Springs. I retired in 2005, the summer of Katrina."

She noted, "I had previously been a volunteer for the thrift shop and in the schools as well as for the Coast Community Concert Association. I also sing in a choir, volunteer to host coffee hour one month a year and serve as a lay reader at Larcher Chapel, as is Victoria.

"I became interested in volunteering at the hospital through Dean and Victoria, and after only one day, I think I have found my place," Hershberger continued. "Giving back and helping people seems a natural fit for me. But I also enjoy talking and listening to those who have shared the same military lifestyle that I have lived. My children are grown with families of their own, but they were thrilled to hear what I'm up to now. Let the adventure begin!"

Penny also had three "pushes" her first day, May 27.

Becoming a medical center volunteer included an initial interview with volunteer director Usa Jones, a legal briefing covering hospital policy and procedures, an online syllabus course with a mandatory five-block test and the 81st Medical Group orientation class.