BEGA woman Beryl Harris has devoted so many years caring for patients at Bega Hospital that friends and family refer to it as “Beryl’s second home”.
She was honoured for her work with dementia patients recently when she was announced as the Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) Volunteer of the Year.
“It’s absolutely marvellous, but it was a bit of a shock and I’m told my face was priceless when my name was called!” Ms Harris said.
Ms Harris started her working life as a nurse and after many years volunteering for school and sport associations when her children were young she returned to the hospital wards in the early 1980s when she became a “Pink Lady”.
She later moved into volunteering for the blood bank, oncology and most recently she began working with dementia patients.
She is also trained in pastoral care and is often called upon to sit with palliative care patients.
“I live very close to the hospital, so sometimes a nurse will give me a bell at night and ask if I can be with the patient,” she said.
“No patient should ever die alone, they deserve to have someone with them to talk quietly and touch their hand.
“It has become a real passion of mine, I find it very rewarding.
“Working with patients with in a palliative care situation, and also those with dementia that I work with, it gives you a real lift,” she said.
Ms Harris recently returned to her volunteer work after going through her own medical treatment for cancer.
“Firstly I don’t like the phase ‘dementia patient’ - I prefer to say they are patients with special needs.
“But I’m on cloud nine to be going back.
“I get a lot from it and my grandkids call me a ‘recycled teen’ because I have so much energy for it!
“My day consists of helping patients with their food and other needs and accompanying them on a walk if they are up to it.
“In their lifetimes these people have given so much to the community, now that they are frail and elderly isn’t it time we gave something back to them?”
Ms Harris said although she was thrilled to receive her award she is somewhat embarrassed to be singled out.
“This is for all the volunteers at Bega and Pambula hospitals, it’s not just about me,” she said.
“I’m going to hang the certificate at Bega Hospital, it certainly doesn’t belong in my house because it’s for everyone.”
Ms Harris was nominated by Cath Bateman, dementia and delirium acute clinical nurse consultant with SNSWLHD.
“Beryl totally underplays herself, but she just gives of herself in so many ways and is an amazing woman,” she said.
“She’s a joy to have at the hospital and she plays such an incredible role not just for the patients, but for the staff and the carers.
“She should be very proud of herself,” Ms Bateman said.
Ms Harris was interview by the BDN in 2010 about her volunteering work and she commented she didn’t believe “the new hospital will be built in my lifetime”.
She joked is “very happy to have been proved wrong” and will be part of a special tour of the South East Regional Hospital site on Saturday where she can get a closer look at the new hospital taking shape.