The traditional gift for a 70th anniversary celebration is something platinum, but the more than 250 members of the Blount Memorial Auxiliary have given Blount Memorial Hospital – and this community – so much more as part of the hospital’s anniversary year.
In 2018, the Auxiliary will enter into its own 70th anniversary year, after the group first was chartered on April 7, 1948 by then-hospital administrator Mr. Charles Smith with a mission of providing services, funds and promoting community relations for the hospital. “Originally, the Auxiliary was made up of representatives from 14 civic and church groups,” said Connie Slingluff, the director of volunteer services at Blount Memorial.
“Because we know the Auxiliary will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year, I can say that for 69 years, this hospital has been very blessed to have a group or people who volunteer to help the hospital in various ways, and we very much appreciate it,” said hospital board of directors president Robert Redwine at the Auxiliary’s 2017 annual meeting. “I’ve personally watched this Auxiliary for almost three decades, and as part of that, I’ve watched a special group of people who provide an invaluable service to this hospital.”
The service Redwine speaks of comes in the form of more than 2.2 million hours of service that the Auxiliary’s members have provided, free of charge, to Blount Memorial Hospital since the doors opened in July 1947. In 2017, alone, 125 volunteers were recognized for their combined 303,050 hours of service at their annual awards banquet.
From the number of volunteer hours contributed, it’s easy to see that the members of the Auxiliary live up to the words of American philosopher and psychologist William James, who also trained as a physician, who said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” said Redwine. “This group has become part of the fabric of the hospital. I’m not sure how we’d do it without you guys.” Volunteers serve in a variety of roles including staffing the information desks and waiting areas; assisting with discharges; delivering flowers; and running the Gift Shop, among so many others.
“When I come to the hospital as a board member, patient or visitor, I see Auxilians out doing their jobs in all areas of our hospital,” he said. “I’m very proud of the efforts that you all make to make our patients and visitors feel welcome.” Hospital CEO Don Heinemann echoed his appreciation for the group, adding, “This has been a big year for us with the 70th anniversary, and I’ve been trying to tell our story. The most important thing that stands out to me is volunteerism, which is what built this hospital.”
However, the Auxiliary doesn’t just provide the hospital with the invaluable gift of its members’ time, it also provides significant funds, which are raised through various sales and fundraisers hosted by the group, including $5 jewelry, uniform, cookware and gift shop sales.
Through its work with these fundraisers and sales, the Auxiliary raises money for an annual donation to the hospital. This year, a check for $150,000 was presented to Redwine and Heinemann. “Finances are tough in the hospital world, and you don’t know how much this helps,” Redwine said.
Funds from this year’s donation are being used to help with the purchase of the hospital’s new 3D Mammography technology, a GE Senographe Pristina digital breast Tomosynthesis system. Blount Memorial is only the second in the nation to offer this new technology to its community.
“This is going to help our patients,” said Heinemann, speaking to how the 3D image provides much greater visibility of breast tissue structures and possible cancers, which allows for earlier diagnosis of breast cancers, particularly of small, early-stage cancers; reduced callbacks for additional imaging following a screening mammogram; and enhanced comfort during the exam.
The 3D image also is especially helpful for examining women with dense breasts, as it creates additional views for the radiologists. “This will mean fewer patients get called back, which will reduce the stress of that worry,” Heinemann shared. “Also, most importantly, we’re hopefully going to identify cancers faster, because we know the faster we can identify cancers and start treatment, the better chance the patients have of surviving.”
According to Slingluff, in its nearly 70 years, the Auxiliary has contributed $2,901,960 to the hospital, in addition to $437,589 in scholarship money for those interested in pursuing careers in nursing, radiology and physical therapy.
Auxiliary president Becky Dodson recognizes the difference that her fellow volunteers make each day. “We are not lacking in volunteers with good hearts,” she said, also thanking the hospital for the opportunity to serve. “It’s wonderful to know that volunteers are valued. Volunteer groups across the country are being disbanded and are struggling to figure out what to do next.”
For the Blount Memorial Auxiliary, they’re also trying to figure out what to do next, but in a different way, Dodson said. “We always want to be a positive here at the hospital.”
“Blount Memorial’s volunteers are very unselfish,” Redwine shared. “You could do anything with your time, but you choose to give it to us.
“You’re generous with your time, and you’re generous with your talents, and for that, we are thankful.”