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'I'm always willing to help': rural hospital's only physical therapist is the go-to worker when it comes to volunteer activities.


When Cindy Randolph, a physical therapy assistant at Marion Regional Medical Center in Hamilton, Ala., wanted to collect supplies to send to soldiers in Afghanistan, she headed straight to her boss's office. There sat Teresa Wilkes, who is not only the director of physical therapy at the 28-bed hospital with a nursing home and outpatient facility, she's also the co-worker people go to when they want a volunteer project done right.

I think it's because I'm really organized," says Wilkes, who's been working at MRMC since 2001. "And I'm always willing to help."

Wilkes promptly e-mailed the hospital staff a letter and list of personal hygiene products that the soldiers needed, then set up a drop-off station. By week's end, she had packed up and shipped a large box filled with shampoo, soap and toothpaste to soldiers in the 877th Engineer Battalion in Afghanistan.

"Teresa just took it and ran with it," enthuses Randolph.

In January, the West Council of the Alabama Hospital Association honored Wilkes as a Hospital Hero for both her substantial volunteer work and her reputation among co-workers as "an excellent role model whose department is often cited by patients for its professional and compassionate care."

True to form, when Wilkes recently heard a local domestic violence center was low on necessities including diapers, she sprang into action, organizing a drive among co-workers and friends. She hosted a collection party one Saturday at her home so people could snack and socialize as they dropped off donations. The batteries, garbage bags, phone cards, and personal hygiene and baby care products brought in filled the bed of the Wilkes family pickup truck.

"There's not much downtime in her job, bless her heart," Randolph says. "She's our only therapist here. She's the only one who can see new patients that have to be evaluated. Somehow, she manages to get things done. Where she has the time and how she comes up with all this never ceases to amaze us."

Wilkes once worked in a big Kansas City hospital, but she prefers the camaraderie of smaller, rural hospitals. "Everybody's willing to help when there's a need," she says of her co-workers. "A lot of people care deeply for each other, almost like family."

That camaraderie extends to the patients. Wilkes keeps a stash of banners, cards and balloons in her desk in case someone needs to throw a spur-of-the-moment birthday party for a patient.

Wilkes is probably most proud, however, of the adopt-a-resident program she started at the nursing home. She had noticed that some folks not only didn't have much family, they didn't have much of anything--including warm socks and sweaters. As the winter holidays approached, Wilkes made notes, put the residents' names and wishes on cards and decorated a wall with the cards. Staffers signed their names to the cards of residents they wanted to "adopt," then bought and wrapped the gifts.

Several years into the program, staffers begin clamoring for the cards before Thanksgiving. Residents' wishes include "anything from socks to comfortable clothes, to a housecoat, a comb, a brush lotion, body soap," Randolph says. "Anything they need or want to make it from one day to the next."

So many staffers participate that they now keep a storage closet with all the extra gifts in case a new resident needs something.

Wilkes also usually ends up doing the hospital Christmas decorations, says Randolph, dreaming up creative themes--one year was a holiday luau, another year was disco--and making them happen with what seems like minimal effort.

Wilkes says she does it hoping she'll inspire her fellow staffers. "I'm just trying to encourage others to be leaders as well," she says.

Maybe her initiative is starting to rub off." This year Wilkes asked co-workers if they'd take the reins of the hospital's Relay for Life team. One volunteered, so for once, she'll be on the sidelines, just helping out.

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Title Annotation:the extra mile
Author:Putre, Laura
Publication:H&HN Hospitals & Health Networks
Date:May 1, 2010
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