main hospital building at night


Hospital volunteers lend a helping and caring hand


Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) has recently welcomed back some of its volunteers to reopen the hospital’s gift shop and information desks, and with National Volunteer Week scheduled for next month, I am taking the opportunity to highlight our volunteer programs at CCH.

Volunteer programs at CCH, including the gift shop, have been temporarily closed since March 2020, when volunteers were asked to stay home and stay safe. Today, a limited number of volunteers have returned to once again staff the gift shop and information desks.

Hospital volunteerism in Ontario has a rich and cherished history dating back two hundred years.

In the mid 1800s, volunteers would donate their time through what is called a “hospital auxiliary,” with the first being created in St. Catherine’s, Ontario in 1865. The first auxiliary in Cornwall was formed in 1946 at the Hotel Dieu Hospital, which is now the auxiliary to St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Centre. The auxiliary at the Cornwall General Hospital was formed shortly afterwards in 1949, and continues at CCH today.

Auxiliaries were originally intended to fundraise for hospitals to help purchase equipment like tea kettles for patients, but as their membership grew, so did their tasks and their fundraising.

In the early 1960s, auxiliary volunteers (who were often called “candy-stripers” because of their red and white striped uniforms) began helping nurses with non-clinical work like changing linens and retrieving paper documents.

Our volunteer programs are always evolving to reflect the changing needs of our patients and our community. Today at CCH, we have 240 volunteers, and not all of them are auxiliary members; we also have several departmental volunteers, spiritual care volunteers, religious volunteers, and spiritual leaders.

These volunteers were a common sight at CCH before the pandemic. Traditionally clad in recognizable blue vests, they are credited with reducing the stress of a hospital visit by providing a friendly face, by answering questions, by giving directions, and of course, managing the gift shop. Their efforts can often help to improve the quality of patient care by contributing to patient satisfaction and reducing anxiety of family members.

The auxiliary has also made an incredible impact from a fundraising perspective. The CCH auxiliary has supported large-scale capital campaigns – including the new hospital build and MRI campaign – as well as purchasing specific equipment benefitting local patients, such as mobile telemetry units, portable electrocardiogram machines, equipment for our Emergency Department, and so much more.

“Although we are proud of our monetary contributions, we are also very proud of the role that auxiliary members and other volunteers play in serving patients, families, visitors, and the community at large by providing services that supplement those of the medical and clinical staff,” explains Lorna Grant, president of the auxiliary at CCH. “We do this truly because we are caring people, who offer our time to help others and enhance quality of care at CCH.”

Our volunteers have been sorely missed at CCH throughout the pandemic and this loss has been felt by all staff, physicians, patients and families. It has not been the same without them. We are excited to see them returning with many more volunteer programs scheduled to safely restart in the coming months.

Next time you find yourself at CCH, be sure to stop by the gift shop or don’t be shy to ask a volunteer for directions. Remember, just look for the friendly face wearing a blue vest and you’ll know you are in caring hands with a CCH volunteer.

If you are interested in volunteering at CCH, please contact Judy Dancause, our Coordinator of Volunteer Services at 613-938-4240 extension 3519.