When Joe Grier started volunteering at his local hospital in Omaha, Neb., he decided to learn Spanish so he could better communicate with patients for whom it was the primary language. That was when he was in his 80s.
These days, Joe, now 90, is as committed and busy as he's ever been. He volunteers several days a week providing company and comfort to patients at three different facilities. Mondays, he takes communion to Catholic patients at Alegent Creighton Health's Creighton University Medical Center. Wednesdays, he visits post-intensive care patients at Alegent Creighton Health's Bergen Mercy Medical Center. And Thursdays, he's off to Josie Harper Residence Hospice House to spend time with terminally ill patients.
As everybody associated with hospitals knows, volunteers bring a valuable dimension to patient care that goes beyond what clinicians and other staff provide. The best volunteers meet patients on their own, informal terms, allowing them to open up about their medical concerns, but, more importantly, to take a little break from the stress and to focus on more pleasant topics, from home and family to hobbies and food. And as the inpatient population skews older and older, hospitals will benefit from having more volunteers from those same generations.
After his wife passed away in 2001, a priest encouraged Grier to volunteer in a hospital setting. He started in the surgical waiting room, but found that families there were too preoccupied about their loved one's conditions to chat with a stranger, however well-meaning. Distributing communion to patients turned out to be "the perfect fit" and gave him the spiritual aspect he desired. "I took to that like duck to water," he says.
From there, his volunteer activities expanded exponentially. Grier says he has an easy time finding "common ground" with patients and enjoys "the opportunity to reminisce and talk over old times." He loves to be around young people, as well.
Grier's health is generally good, though "a little balance problem" requires him to walk with a cane. He gets to his hospital gigs by bus or a family member will drive him. He has five children, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandkids.
How long does he plan to go on volunteering? "As long as I'm able!" Grier proclaims.
That could be a long time yet. He's already surpassed his goal of living longer than his parents did. They both died in their mid-80s. His next goal is to live longer than fitness icon Jack LaLane, who died at 92. Grier's wife loved to exercise to LaLane's popular TV and video classes. His ultimate goal is to live to 100.
Last year, Grier was among six health care professionals and volunteers to win the Inspired Comfort Award from Cherokee Uniforms. They were recognized for "their impact on the lives of others through extraordinary care, sacrifice and innovation, while serving as an inspiration to others."
Cheryl Moorehouse, manager of volunteer and guest services at Bergen Mercy Medical Center, is a big fan. "I look forward to Wednesdays all because of Joe," she says. "That's the day he comes to volunteer at our hospital and he is the highlight of my day and week."
What makes Joe so remarkable? "His truly humble, quiet, spiritual nature, his wisdom and insights," Moorehouse says. "That, coupled with his childlike innocence and his inquisitive nature, makes him a rare individual."