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Unwrapping the Gift of Healthcare

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October 25, 2020 | By Meg Steele

Washington Hospital
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It was approaching Christmas in 2014. The windows and doors of the WHS Washington Hospital Gift Shop were covered with paper like a present waiting to be unwrapped. It had been 35 years since the Gift Shop had last been remodeled, and now a crowd had gathered outside the entrance – visitors, patients, employees, administration, auxiliary board members and volunteers – eager to see the changes. Each of us took a deep breath as Myrtle Fischer, the Gift Shop Manager and a volunteer since 1960, turned the handle to open the doors to the newly remodeled gift shop for the first time.

Eyes widened and lit up with delight as the doors opened to reveal an enchanted Christmas wonderland. The new shop was open, light, and modern with enough space to walk around… and people did, carefully admiring the Christmas gifts we’d meticulously selected. The Gift Shop had been transformed into an updated boutique with a variety of stylish gifts for visitors and staff, along with the traditional hospital gift shop offerings. It was Myrtle’s first time seeing the new gift shop, and she couldn’t have been more pleased.

In my 19 years of volunteering as a Washington Hospital Auxiliary volunteer, the Gift Shop reopening was the experience that stands out the most to me. At that time, I was President of the Auxiliary, and had been asked to spearhead the remodel project as the principal designer despite having limited retail experience. I kept telling everyone, “You realize I don’t know what I’m doing… but if I were doing it, this is how I would do it.” The Hospital had faith in me, and the year after the remodel, revenue from the Washington Hospital Gift Shop increased by 60%!

Our gift shop is unique in that it is run solely by our amazing team of volunteers, members of the Washington Hospital Auxiliary. Most hospitals have had to turn to paid staff to manage gift shop operations, but our volunteers keep the doors open with little to no costs. And, it pays off by helping patients and families. The Gift Shop does just under half a million dollars in business every year, with the proceeds supporting the Washington Hospital. Funds from the Gift Shop have contributed to the renovation of the hospital’s new CARE Center for Family Birth and Women’s Health, the Registration/Front Desk, our Lab Draw Station, and ultimately to helping the hospital provide countless patients and their families with Great Patient Care.

Five years ago, I had firsthand experience on the receiving end of this great patient care when I spent six days in Washington Hospital. It was a blessing to receive such exceptional care so close to home. My husband, Harry, didn’t have to make the long drive into the city of Pittsburgh, so he was able to visit two to three times a day. The patient care was phenomenal and had such a personal feeling. The talented doctors and nurses were always around and available. Everyone, including the people who brought my meals and the housekeepers, asked, “Can I do anything else for you? Do you need anything?” No one enjoys being sick, but if you are and you have to go to a hospital, Washington Hospital is the best place to go. I don’t know how a bad experience like that could have been any better.

The care here is personal; people know and care for each other. I believe, due in large part to being an independent, locally governed hospital. I would hate to see our organization swallowed up and lose that personal touch. That’s why it is so important to me to ensure Washington Health System has the resources it needs to continue serving our community, whether it’s guiding us through a pandemic or giving the peace of mind that there is a skilled emergency room nearby.

Just as Washington Health System supports the health and wellbeing of our community, the System’s advancement depends on the generosity and dedication of its donors and volunteers in our community. Although giving back is often times referred to as charity, my contributions and time as Washington Hospital Auxiliary President, Washington Health System Foundation Board Member, and currently as volunteer and Gift Shop manager, has been nothing but rewarding. I hope that you too will consider supporting Washington Health System, and in turn supporting our community.