Lynda Whalen: selfless volunteer leader for 17 years

September 10, 2011 • Local News

Lynda Whalen, director of volunteer services at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. (Emily Russo Miller Photo)

At any given time, dozens of volunteers dressed in bright pink blazers dart through Eastern New Mexico Medical Center to aid patients and visitors with their stay at the hospital.

The information desk, the surgical waiting room, the cancer ward — they’re always there, armed with a smile, to lend a helping hand. They are the ENMMC Auxiliary, and Lynda Whalen has been their selfless leader — and cheerleader — for the past 17 years.

Director of Volunteer Services since 1994, Whalen has developed the once small group of dedicated volunteers, which were usually spouses of doctors in the early days, into a booming 135-strong troupe that goes out of their way to make sure patients are comfortable, physicians are happy and the hospital is sparkling and profitable.

It’s not always an easy task, but Whalen says her job is her livelihood, and that day after day, her volunteers continue to amaze her with their dedication and loyalty.

“These people are bees,” she said proudly, extolling their diligence. “If you volunteer in a [auth] hospital, you do things, you help others. Our group are the bees.”

The auxiliary was first founded in 1958 and grew out a “glorious garage sale,” as Whalen describes it, which was hosted by wives of Roswell doctors who wanted to raise money for hospital renovations and collegiate scholarships for area medical students. Whalen is proud to say that the Auxiliary upheld some of its longstanding traditions, and to this day, it raises about $50,000 annually for students in the health care field, something Whalen expanded under her tenure.

The ever-increasing scholarship fund is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of innovations implemented by Whalen. She established several award-winning programs for the hospital, including the Patient Ambassador Program, which began in 2002 and won the coveted “Salute to Excellence Award” from the New Mexico Hospital Association in 2007.

“It aims to make patients as comfortable as possible,” she says, by acting as liaisons between patients and staff to help address situations before they become problems and to promote a comfortable, positive environment. She noted longtime volunteer Dell Vick inspired the idea, which was later approved by the hospital’s CEO.

Another program she established was the Diabetes Education program in 2005 to strengthen the education of each diabetic patient by making informational packs for them. This was especially important in light of the fact that Chaves County had the third highest incident rate of diabetes in adults in New Mexico, she said. That program also won a Salute to Excellence award in 2009.

Perhaps one thing most visitors are most grateful for is the renovation of the gift shop area, which now includes a Starbucks coffee shop run by trained auxiliary volunteer baristas, and a beautiful seating area with natural light streaming in from the ceiling’s sunlights and a mural of the Grand Canal in Venice on the formerly stark white walls.

“It’s one of the few places in the hospital where you can escape,” she said, noting that the project also won the Salute to Excellence Award in 2006. “And it’s beautiful.”

In fact, now almost all of the walls in the hospital are covered in murals painted by the same artist, Kevin Spoke, a local who just recently passed away in Carlsbad. Whalen discovered his artwork in a local furniture store, tracked him down, then the auxiliary commissioned him to paint the cancer ward, the newborn wing, the cafeteria and the entire lower level of the hospital. It took him four years to complete his work, from 2004-2008.

The result? A stunning mirage of Mediterranean scenes, and other themes, that transformed an oft-times cheerless place into a space of wonder and mystique.

Whalen’s hard work has earned her the respect of her colleagues. Longtime volunteer Patsy Chesser, who has been an active auxiliary member for 22 years, says she has been incredibly impressed by Whalen and what she has done for the program.

“Linda is the best director I have ever worked under,” Chesser said. “She is excellent.”

“She goes above and beyond,” volunteer Martha Aldaco added. “There is not a chance we would function without her.”

Whalen has worked for ENMMC for almost 22 years, but she says there’s still work she wants to do. She hardly considers it work though, and winces at the word.

“I love what I do,” Whalen said. “I never get tired. Monday morning, I can’t wait to get here.”

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