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Decades of dedication: Wilford Hall volunteers give back to patients and staff

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- In the last five decades, tens of thousands of Airmen have rotated through Wilford Hall taking care of patients and executing the Air Force medical mission. While medical personnel are constantly moving, a group of people wearing a different uniform has remained constant – volunteers.

Throughout the year, more than 190 volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 91-years-old selflessly dedicate their time to help Wilford Hall patients and staff.

According to wing volunteer services director Terryca Fuller, volunteers assist patients and staff in more than 25 different departments within the facility.

"Patients see our step-saver cart drivers, patient escorts and information desk and pharmacy desk attendants," she said. "Beyond that, many work behind the scenes in family medicine, dermatology, internal medicine, diabetes center, ophthalmology, and other major areas.

This hard-working and selfless group includes retired active-duty providers who assist with direct patient care in dental, internal medicine, and outpatient surgery,” Fuller continued.

Volunteer services also have volunteers who contribute in other ways, putting their talents and skills to use at home by making hats, blankets and baby items for patients at the San Antonio Military Medical Center on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Fisher Houses, and the Veterans Affairs hospital in San Antonio.

In fiscal year 2016, volunteers dedicated nearly 42,000 hours saving the wing more than $1 million.

Many volunteers are constantly asked what makes them come back year after year. For volunteers like Christa Bienko, now in her 25th year at Wilford Hall, the answer is the people.

“I love interacting with people and helping the patients. In my experience, the patients and staff have always been supportive and seem appreciative of what we do. I also really enjoy the people I work with,” Bienko said.

The working relationship among Wilford Hall staff and the volunteers is a benefit that pharmacy technician Staff Sgt. Shannel Gray says is mutual.

“I love our volunteers. They always come in with such high spirts; [they’re] happy and willing to help as much as they can and we have a great working relationship with them in the pharmacy,” she said.

The impact volunteers have on the 59th Medical Wing mission and patient experience is invaluable and the work they put forth is appreciated throughout the wing.

“Our volunteers are often the first people our patients encounter; they provide a warm and human touch to the patient health care experience. In addition to transportation and the information they provide, they are a huge part of our team and we couldn’t do it without them!” said Col. Scott Suckow, 59th MDW administrator.

For more information about Wilford Hall Volunteer services, visit www.59mdw.af.mil.