Panthers Hospital Visitation Group – Helping Hands

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A dedicated group of volunteers from Port Macquarie Panthers has provided encouragement and support to hospital patients and aged care residents as part of their visitor program for over 30 years. Jim Buntain shares the scope and importance of their interaction with the people they visit.

What work does the Port Macquarie Panthers Hospital Visitation Group do? 

The Panthers Hospital Visitation Group Incorporated provides free toiletries and magazines to patients of the Port Macquarie Base Hospital, as well as several local aged care centres. We also have a chat with those residents and patients who have no family or visitors and provide them with a link to the outside world.

We not only visit local residents, but quite often encounter people who are visiting our area and have had an accident or have become ill and have no one to visit them.

Which hospitals and aged care facilities does the group visit and how often?

We visit the Base Hospital weekly and Bethany Nursing Center, Emmaus Aged Care, Mt. Carmel and Mary Knoll, Mingaletta, Regis Hastings Manor and St Agnes Hostel fortnightly. During the year we visit, on average, 15,000 patients and or residents, who all appreciate and welcome our visits. Staff at the aged care centres know us, welcome us, look forward to our visits and direct us to those who would most benefit from our visit.

Our group carries out an annual Easter egg drop at the Base Hospital and a Mother’s Day Drop and a Father’s Day Drop at alternate aged care centres. We receive a number of letters and phone calls thanking both Port Panthers and group for these gifts.

Many of these people would be alone and forgotten on these special days and are surprised and thrilled when we turn up.

How many members do you have in the group currently, and how many are you hoping to expand to?

There are 16 members in our group, ranging in age from 40 to over 80. Any number of new members would be most welcome. Most of our members have been with us for many years. Our longest serving member has been with us for over 18 years.

New members are always welcome. All they need is to have a spare hour or two in the week, are friendly, comfortable with elderly people, have a sense of humour and are caring. With these qualities, they would really fit into our group.

Tell us more about the Panthers Hospital Visitation Group and how it is supported?

The Hospital Visitation Group has been in operation for over 30 years. Following government legislation in 2009 (due to attacks on young people and elderly people), we were forced to become a registered association, while each member was policed checked. Any potential new member would need to have a police check carried out.

Regular monthly meetings are held, where any issues arising from our visits are discussed and addressed as necessary. Port Panthers provided us with an annual grant, enabling us to purchase the goods provided to patients and residents free of charge. Each year we prepare a submission for funding to the club, while accounting for how the previous year’s funding has been spent. We also supply a report annually to the Department of Fair Trading.

Port Panthers has been very supportive to our group over the years. In addition to its annual grant, it provides our monthly meeting room, morning teas and a separate cupboard to store our goods. We cannot thank Panthers enough for its ongoing support.

Many patients and or residents tell us they are member of Port Panthers, thank us for the job we do and are appreciative of the support the Panthers Club provides our group to carry out this work.

How do the visits work; do you have a schedule that the members work about?

Our members visit in pairs and wear our Port Panthers name badges (provided by the club) and are warmly welcomed by the staff, patients and residents. Visits take usually no more than one hour. When visiting any centre, we collect the bag containing our goods from our cupboards at the club and usually return them the same day.

We prepare a quarterly roster, a copy of which is supplied to each volunteer, and they decide what time and which day they will visit their designated centre. The roster shows where each couple will be doing during that period. Each couple works out their own time to visit. Often circumstances arise where they can not meet this time frame due to illness, prior arrangements, holidays, etc. Any shortfall is picked up by subsequent groups at a later date.

Why did you get involved, and how long have you been with the group?

Prior to becoming members of The Hospital Visitation Group, my wife and I did Meals on Wheels for a number of years. When we left that group, we joined the Hospital Visitation Group and have been members for 9 to 10 years. Currently, I am President, and my wife is the Treasurer. We enjoy every minute of our involvement with the group and in common with all our members, appreciate the opportunity to help others.

What benefit do the residents who are visited by the group receive, besides the free goods?

Apart from providing free toiletries and magazines, we find that many people just wish to have a chat, as sometimes they have no other visitors. While they appreciate our visit, we feel privileged to be able to brighten their day. We are rewarded by their smiles, a grateful “Thank you” or “God Bless”. This makes us most humble indeed and makes all our efforts worthwhile.

For those who are interested, how can they get involved?

All members are volunteers and are dedicated and committed to what we do. We are able to assist those who are in need of our help, and hopefully we brighten up otherwise uneventful days to people with little or no outside contact. We are a small, tight-knit group which is supportive of each other.

Meetings are held on the second Tuesday monthly at 10am at Port Panthers. Anyone interested in joining our group is welcome to attend. They can also contact me on 6551 2762 or our secretary, Alice Morrow, on 6583 4958.

Thanks Jim.   

This story was published in issue 82 Port Macquarie

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