Parents’ Many ER Trips Motivated Her Volunteer Service
One in an ongoing series.
Ellen Goldberg’s heart ached every time she brought her mother or father to the Emergency Department at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia – and not just for them. She was saddened by the fact that other patients were sometimes alone, with no one there to help them at such a fraught, uncertain time.
As her parents became more chronically ill, and the visits to Einstein’s ED became more frequent, Goldberg stepped in.
“I found myself talking to people,” she recalls. She’d bring a patient a blanket or a cup of water or ask a doctor or nurse a question for them. “These patients had no one, but they had me.” That was the mid-to-late 1980s, when there was no official volunteer program in the Einstein ED: Goldberg was a one-person, informal volunteer department.
That impulse to help people eventually led Goldberg to become an official Einstein volunteer, then to join the staff. For the past 10 years, she’s been manager of volunteers at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia and Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park. She was instrumental in creating a formal volunteer program for the ED, which continues to exist.
Goldberg’s mother and father are long gone, but the passion for Einstein they instilled in her endures. “For my family, there was no other hospital but Einstein,” she says. “Einstein was a place that was home.”
Goldberg, 63, was part of a large Jewish community that lived in Mount Airy neighborhoods during the 1960s and 1970s and felt attached to Einstein, which had started as the Jewish Hospital.
Her first memory was getting her tonsils out here; she was 4 years old. “When they came to take me to the operating room, I was screaming,” she says. “So they put my dad in scrubs and let him carry me to the operating room and he stayed until I was asleep. That’s the kind of place this is.” Goldberg’s oldest daughter, Erin, was born here – and is now having her baby here.
Goldberg lost touch with Einstein after her mother died, but was enlisted – in a phone call she vividly remembers receiving while sitting on the beach at the Jersey Shore in 2004 – to work on staff.
Goldberg recruits, screens and supervises the 170 people who volunteer at both campuses. The volunteers are required to spend a minimum of four hours a week at the hospital, but most of them spend at least eight to 12 hours a week.
They greet arriving visitors, act as escorts and messengers, occupy information desks, and do clerical work. They feed patients, comfort them, and act as liaisons for families in surgical waiting suites. They enable nurses and doctors to focus on clinical care.
“There‘s no more gratitude I could feel than seeing volunteers working, making a difference – whether they’re greeting someone at all the entrances, cuddling a baby, visiting patients, filing papers, answering the phone – across the board,” Goldberg says. “To me, a volunteer is the most special person on this earth. They give of their time and they give of their heart.”
She notes one volunteer who’s been working as an administrative clerk in the accounting department for 38 years; another a grandmother-granddaughter team who have been here for 15 years. In Philadelphia, the volunteers are mostly older women and almost always former patients or kin of former patients. “They have had excellent care or a family member has had excellent care,” she says, “so they want to be at Einstein” – not unlike Goldberg herself.
During the years that Goldberg’s parents were chronically ill, they came to Einstein’s ED 20 to 30 times a year. Why did she want to return here after such a grueling experience? Why be reminded of her family’s struggles here?
“Working at Einstein and being part of the Einstein community gives me great joy,” she says. A former supervisor gave her a favorite label: “She called me an Einsteiner. I’m so proud to be part of this community and my volunteers.”