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To find out more about becoming a San Juan Regional Medical Center auxiliary volunteer or teen volunteer, or to learn more about the Pet Therapy Volunteer Program, contact Teresa Becker at 505-609-6156.

FARMINGTON — For years, San Juan Regional Medical Center's auxiliary program has provided volunteer opportunities, and the hospital now hopes to find ways to attract more community members to the program.

Teresa Becker, the hospital's manager of volunteer services, said volunteers in the auxiliary program have been dwindling, mostly as senior volunteers cannot work as many hours for health and mobility reasons. Many seniors also winter in warmer climates, so the volunteer base during these months shrinks.

While the hospital also has a large pool of teen volunteers, Becker is brainstorming how to tap into the baby boomer population to supplement the adult volunteer base. She said attracting that population involves convincing them it's possible to work full-time jobs and donate time at the hospital.

"It's about raising the awareness that we're here, and that we have a huge variety of volunteer activities available," she said.

The two largest volunteer needs at the hospital are working at the information desk and at the gift shop. Those areas are open the most hours and have more shifts to cover, Becker said.

"But we also have refreshment cart services, if people want to visit and comfort patients, and there are lots of clerical options," she said.

Another significant need for volunteers is at the hospital's Cancer Center, as well as helping in the resource library and visiting people in the waiting room.

"That kind of volunteer needs to be strong," Becker said. "It's challenging and can be emotional because volunteers will sometimes work with people who end up passing away. The volunteers we now have working there are wonderful."

Hospital spokeswoman Kathryn Pettijohn said the hospital also wants potential volunteers to know they don't have to donate large amounts of time.

"That's the biggest misconception," she said. "It doesn't have to be a big time commitment. It can even be a few hours a month."

Hospital volunteer Pat Roach, left, talk with co-workers on Friday at the information desk at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.
Hospital volunteer Pat Roach, left, talk with co-workers on Friday at the information desk at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Pettijohn said auxiliary volunteers get a lot from the program, such as making new friends and gaining a sense of purpose from giving back to the community.

"They also get a lot of exercise just doing their assignments," she said. "We once gave some of them pedometers, and one of them logged four miles in one shift."

The auxiliary also raises funds for the hospital, mainly through operating the on-site gift shop, and it recently donated $82,000 of cardiac equipment to the Heart Center.

Becker said an initial interview pinpoints which job best fits potential volunteers' schedules and interests.

Volunteers also must pass a routine background check and complete an orientation and training session. To protect patients and themselves, volunteers are required to get an annual flu shot or wear a mask during flu season.

Yet another hospital volunteer opportunity involves using pets -- normally dogs -- for therapy. Dogs accepted into the Pet Therapy Program must first be certified through Pet Partners before their owners can apply to become pet therapy volunteers. The dogs are then tested to see if they can work effectively in the hospital environment.

"The dogs are a real bonus for staff, also," said Becker. "Some days, the employees actually benefit more from the dogs' visits than do the patients."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.