Patients and visitors at Methodist Hospitals in Gary, Ind., often feel they know Simon Lillie from somewhere, but just can’t place him.

“I tell them ‘No,’ but they feel they already know me, because that’s how I treat people when they come through the door,” says Lillie, “as though we’ve already been acquainted.”

Lillie, 64, has been a security guard for 36 years, the past six at the hospital’s front entrance. In April, he received Methodist Hospitals’ annual Employee of the Year Award for his welcoming way with patients, and the fact that he volunteers at the hospital on one of his off days each week.

Lillie says his volunteer work gives him a chance to visit a little with just about all 200 patients in the hospital. “I pass out newspapers to the patients,” he says. “You go in each door, you introduce yourself, then you get a chance to be one-on-one with each patient — see how they’re doing, see how they feel and give them a little hope to get well and get on out of here.”

Wright Alcorn, Methodist vice president of operations, says Lillie is an “integral” reason the hospital received an award from the Studer Group in December for the most improved HCAHPS scores out of 850 hospitals. Alcorn, who has been at his job for two years, after 20 years at a hospital in Atlanta, says, “The one thing culturally about Methodist that I’ve experienced from the very beginning, is that everybody I meet — a vendor, a patient, or a patient’s family — is always struck by the friendly welcome they receive when they walk through the door. Simon is the person most often in that position. He greets you and welcomes you to Methodist hospital and offers to help you whatever your need might be.”

It’s Lillie’s nature to be outwardly friendly and helpful, Alcorn says. “When you put somebody like that physically in a position where they can greet everyone and offer assistance, it’s like a home run.”

Lillie gets formalities out of the way first. “I say, ‘Good morning, welcome to Methodist hospital. My name is Simon.’ And then I go down to like a casual thing. I start to ask them how they feel, how the loved ones they’ve come to visit are feeling. I take a personal interest in them, and I let them know that God is still blessing them regardless of what they’re going through.”

He tries to put himself in their place — scared, nervous, confused. “Some of them are angry, also. Then I give them some encouragement, let them know that everything is going to be OK.”

Alcorn says that everyone at Methodist knows Lillie, from the environmental services workers to board members. “He has the ability to transcend all those different levels and make a connection with all sorts of people. Those are the kinds of people who are named Employee of the Year. They’re not just recognized by the leadership. They’re the kind of people who, when you say their names, everybody in the organization knows who they are.”

The people who come to Methodist, says Lillie, “need all the help they can get.” It doesn’t serve a wealthy population. “I just see a need to give back to the hospital, because the hospital has provided so much care. I work for a good hospital, and I just feel it in my heart to give something back free.”

The friendly greetings don’t get in the way of the main reason Lillie’s there — to keep the hospital safe.

“He stopped me one morning because I wasn’t wearing my name badge where it was visible,” says Alcorn, “He reminded me that it was one of our policies. He knows the rules and interacts with everybody and does it in an appropriate way.”

Being a security guard is stressful, Lillie admits, “but we have a great team at Methodist. We all try to pull together and help each other. I’ll just go home and get some rest and come back, because I love my job and I love being here and I love helping people.”