Written by Ellis Kmetzsch
At the conclusion of its second year, Mercy’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program continues to positively impact and support local communities. Over 2,171 co-workers donated a total of 12,790 work hours across a four-state area while participating in this program. By the end of 2023, Mercy estimates 2,300 co-workers will have served more than 13,500 hours.
Mercy’s VTO program began in January 2022 and allows co-workers time to volunteer during work hours at local nonprofits or community events and still get paid their normal salary.
“It’s wonderful to see how our co-workers value their VTO hours,” said Ayanna Pierce, Mercy vice president of benefits and talent relations. “Mercy is full of diverse individuals who are dedicated to their work and community, which is the true spirit of Mercy. We know it can be challenging to find time to do traditional volunteer service and we’re excited to support our co-workers by providing them this additional benefit.”
One nursing team in Northwest Arkansas recently spent several of their VTO hours volunteering at Cobblestone Farms, a local nonprofit with a goal to alleviate hunger through sustainable farming. The Mercy volunteers spent several hours cleaning out greenhouses to prepare them for next season’s planting and assisting with other tasks.
Katelyn Beckmann, manager of nursing services for the cardiac unit at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, helped plan and participate in the service project.
“We try to plan a team-building experience every few months, and we love using VTO as a way to get together and do something different than our typical work,” said Beckmann. “For this project specifically, our team really wanted to get outside in the beautiful weather and do something meaningful. Farming is so different from nursing, and it was great to bond as a group over new and interesting work.”
Eight hours are granted to co-workers at the start of each calendar year. The hours can be spent consecutively or in separate volunteer activities preapproved by a co-worker’s leader.
“This specific project felt like a cycle that keeps giving to everyone involved,” Beckmann said. “We helped clean up the greenhouses, and in return, our service will allow the farm to continue serving those who are most at need in our community. Ultimately, it makes Northwest Arkansas a better place for all of us.”
Co-workers can provide a wide range of meaningful service through the VTO program. Other opportunities include serving meals at a homeless shelter, cleaning up a section of a road or highway, walking dogs at a local animal shelter and more.
In Oklahoma, CJ Barnhill, manager of nursing services for the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City, and his team helped organize and throw birthday parties for kids experiencing homelessness.
“We see a lot of people with housing insecurity come in through the emergency department, so my team and I are passionate about helping this population,” said Barnhill. “When someone is experiencing homelessness, often the last thing on their mind is celebrating their birthday. There’s something fulfilling about getting to make this day special again, and it’s great that Mercy has a program that empowers co-workers to get involved.”
The VTO program allows co-workers to continue the spirit of giving demonstrated by Mercy’s Foundress Catherine McAuley, who established the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland. Her framework for charitable work guides Mercy’s mission and values today. With this program, co-workers can go into their community to help others and follow in Catherine’s footsteps.
“The communities where we work and live support us in our mission to provide compassionate care to all who come through our doors,” said Pierce. “We are so grateful to give back by encouraging our co-workers to serve together through volunteer work.”
Mercy, one of the 20 largest U.S. health systems and named the top large system in the U.S. for excellent patient experience by NRC Health, serves millions annually with nationally recognized quality care and one of the nation’s largest Accountable Care Organizations. Mercy is a highly integrated, multi-state health care system including more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, convenient and urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, more than 4,000 physicians and advanced practitioners and more than 45,000 co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.