04/19/11 — Cherry Hospital thanks its volunteers, hands out awards

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Cherry Hospital thanks its volunteers, hands out awards

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 19, 2011 1:46 PM

Despite the announcement earlier this month that Cherry Hospital again faces federal sanctions, its director said he remains very proud of the hospital's efforts and progress.

Director Philip Cook chose to share some of his sentiments during the annual volunteer luncheon last Wednesday, saying it was fitting because of the group's obvious investment and support by volunteering at the hospital year after year.

"I could not be prouder of Cherry Hospital than I am right now," he said. "I'm so pleased with the development that's taken place in the last year."

In recent months, construction began on the new, three-story $138 million hospital, expected to be completed by late 2012, while its employee training efforts, as well as the hiring of additional highly-qualified medical staff, have only enhanced patient care, he said.

"Cherry Hospital is on track," he said, adding that being under "immediate jeopardy" is nevertheless an area of concern.

Immediate jeopardy is the term used by Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, which provides federal funding for state hospitals like Cherry, and indicates potential problems that compromise the health or safety of patients.

The announcement came from the state's Department of Health and Human Services on April 1 that CMS had verbally notified the hospital of the status, stemming from a March incident during which a teenager had run away from the hospital. The adolescent had been returned to Cherry 10 days later, but the sanctions were still being investigated.

The hospital previously faced immediate jeopardy in May 2010, and in September 2008 had lost its federal certifications, resulting in an estimated $800,000 a month loss in federal funding until regaining certification in August 2009.

"The immediate jeopardy is a serious thing," Cook said. "It's always a serious thing when it happens but I believe we are doing everything to correct that.

"We're going to find out (the outcome). We will have another review here in another week or so."

The director said he believes his staff, particularly those in leadership roles, is doing everything possible to ensure the hospital is in a position to grow. He added he is confident every effort will be made to correct any problems the hospital may have.

"Beyond that, what I'm pleased to share with you is that Cherry is on a growth direction that's going to get better," he told the gathering. "I'm very proud of the hospital."

Turning his attention to those who volunteer, Cook said their contributions equate to its being "more than a job."

On average, 71 adults and 77 students lend their time at the hospital each month.

"We really can't put a dollar value on it," he said. "But your spirit is, I would say, at least as valuable as this, quote, dollar value, because when we have the energy, when we have the compassion, all those things that you bring, there isn't a way to put a dollar value on it."

Three awards were presented to outstanding volunteers for the past year.

Sheryl Barnes Ministries, which offers vesper services and serves as an extension of the hospital chaplain, the Rev. Wilbert Johnson, received the chapel volunteer of the year award.

Retirees from the hospital who later return to serve are also especially appreciated, said Penny Withrow, volunteer services coordinator, recognizing the retiree volunteer of the year.

Thelma McLaurin became a volunteer in the special services department in February 2010, Mrs. Withrow said, and showed up each week, helping wherever needed.

"She's our greeter, she answers phones, she triages whatever happens," Mrs. Withrow said.

The Edythe O. Blanton Award, named for the former special services director who retired in 1999, is presented to an individual or group providing exemplary service.

It was given to the Thera-Paws program, which Sheila Gardner has provided for the past three years. She and her dogs have made quite a difference among patients as well as staff, said Tanya Rollins, special services director.

"One nominator said, 'She has a passion for animals and enjoys sharing her pets with patients (and) she always has a positive attitude and exuded such energy,'" she said.