Volunteer finds niche in ER

Lynn Leithe has been volunteering at Deaconess Hospital for 50 years, mostly in the emergency room. (Jesse Tinsley)
Lynn Leithe has been volunteering at Deaconess Hospital for 50 years, mostly in the emergency room. (Jesse Tinsley)

Leithe has helped at Deaconess for five decades

For more than 50 years, South Side resident Lynn Leithe has donated her time, energy and enthusiasm volunteering at Deaconess Medical Center emergency room. “I call myself a go-fer so the employees can do their work without being interrupted,” she said. “I take specimens up to both labs and I make an awful lot of beds.”

When Leithe started volunteering she was in her late 20s. She’d delivered both of her children at Deaconess and “was fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom” but enjoyed volunteering with the Junior League’s well-baby clinic to give back and get out of the house. “When you are a stay-at-home mom, mom needs a day away,” she explained.

Then the baby clinic closed, and a friend suggested Leithe volunteer at the hospital. She began helping in the emergency room, where she still volunteers. Leithe also served on the Deaconess board of trustees for 20 years and on the foundation board.

“I’ve never had a paying job. It put me into the hospital community, where I wouldn’t have had the experience otherwise,” she said.

According to Joey Frost, director of volunteer services and senior circle programs, Leithe “is one of those people that everybody likes. She is always smiling. She is just a very soft-spoken woman, but yet I don’t think I’ve met anybody who is so dedicated to this hospital like Lynn.”

Of course, over the years, Leithe said, the hospital business and volunteer work has changed. “It is very different. Things change … There was no such thing as ER doctors way back then. Physicians came in to work in the ER but it was mostly run by the head resident.”

Leithe said it was interesting to see the enthusiastic young doctors become acclimated to the realities of the emergency room. “I watched doctors grow up.”

When she started, Leithe said, volunteers transported patients through the hospital and put patients to bed. But regulations, protocols and equipment have all changed immensely. “I still ask questions. My favorite thing is there are no stupid questions, just stupid mistakes. I have questions still after all this time,” she said, adding that after 50 years she is still happy to help any way she can.

“Here I am. I do enjoy it. I enjoy it because of the camaraderie of the employees with the volunteers. All the employees are just so nice. They don’t look down on you just because you are working three to six hours and they have to be there from eight to 12 hours,” she said.

“She is very reliable. Just a dear lady,” said registered nurse Vikki Kinney. “You know what Lynn is going to do for you. She just knows what needs to be done and what she can do. You can just count on her.”

According to Sandy Leinberger, former president of adult volunteers at Deaconess Medical Center, volunteers like Leithe “are the frosting on the top. They help the patients get through their ordeals – the smile and the extra mile they go to help people be more comfortable in their stay.”

Leinberger said what has impressed her most about Leithe is “her beautiful smile, her willingness to do her tasks pleasantly. She stayed with it for 50 years.”

In 2009, Deaconess Medical Center had an active group of 253 volunteers, said Frost. “We can always use more, especially during the day. That is what our need is.”

While Deaconess has volunteer positions in many different departments, Leithe said she’s loved helping in the ER.

“As long as I’m healthy I hope to continue as long as I can,” she said, explaining she has slowed down a little. She used to take the stairs to stay in shape for skiing, but now takes the elevator and jokes that someday she’ll “come down with my walker and shuttle things around.”

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