Medical Minute: The finest auxiliary anywhere

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By The Staff

This week, the Hospital Auxiliary of Los Alamos Medical Center celebrated its annual awards recognition and installation of new officers. While we all know that volunteers are the backbone of America, coming out in great numbers to help with such disasters as the Cerro Grande Fire or Hurricane Katrina, few probably understand the day-to-day, year-to-year dedication of an organization like LAMC’s – the finest auxiliary anywhere.

Organized in 1950 when the hospital was still near Ashley Pond, this group brings the voice of history, while making an amazing impact in the present. One auxilian had two children in the same delivery room at the old hospital. However, their birth certificates read differently – the first was born in Sandoval County, the other in the then brand new “Los Alamos County.” She read the memorial tribute at Tuesday’s luncheon.  

When the hospital was sold in 1964 by the Atomic Energy Commission to Lutheran Hospitals and Homes Society (LHHS), that same auxilian, along with others who are still active, presided at the tea table during the reception for the head of LHHS – after he paid $1 for the hospital and two adjacent apartment buildings. What a historic moment.

At this week’s celebration, LAMC’s auxiliary members were cited for their lifetime hours of service, all of which translate into labors of love for the hospital and its patients. Along with many other activities, they raise thousands of dollars through sales in the Lobby Shop and from special events, including their twice-yearly “Books are Fun” book sale, held before Christmas and Mother’s Day.

Those monies go for two major purposes: 1) The auxiliary’s community aid program provides one-time funds to help those in need of, but unable to afford, medical care, and 2) The group’s scholarship program offers awards to college-bound high school graduates or adult learners who wish to pursue a career in health-care-related fields.

The first of those scholarships was given in 1958 in the amount of $500. This year’s tally was three scholarships at $1,500 each for high school students and untold hundreds more going to LAMC employees who are furthering their education – a proud tradition begun 30-plus years ago.

A May 21, 1972, article from the Santa Fe New Mexican noted that an LAMC nurse received a $450 award enabling her to attend an “advanced four-week coronary care course at Presbyterian Hospital, Albuquerque.”

The article reads, “Made possible by the Auxiliary’s box dinner and auction last October, the honor is part of a new trend adopted this year by the Auxiliary Board to enable hospital personnel to receive advanced training. A second scholarship will be announced later.”

That nurse went on to head the equivalent of what is now the Chief Nursing Office of the hospital.

But this group does so much more. The members are a cheerful, calm presence in the hallways, giving directions, helping those being discharged, working with chemo recipients in the Ambulatory Treatment Unit and making sure timely updates on surgical patients reach waiting loved ones.

They also staff the information desk in the main lobby, assuring that those who come in our front door immediately see a smile. A regular army of auxilians and family members decorates the hallways at Christmas, and the group’s youth branch, the Junior Volunteers, guarantee that tiny trick-or-treaters find their way to candy during October’s Trick-Or-Treat-on-MainStreet event.  

All of those functions are vitally important to the everyday operations of the hospital, but they don’t tell the whole story of why auxilians are part of LAMC’s core team.

In the past, an auxiliary was often viewed as the social arm of a hospital; they passed out water, brought around the book cart, and hosted teas and receptions. Make no mistake, they still do all of those tasks when appropriate, but members of this organization have moved on to become the facility’s official ambassadors into the community.

They keep themselves informed of all that’s going on in the hospital, and they take that news accurately and promptly to their friends and neighbors. If they hear concerns or have ideas for improvement, based on interactions within LAMC’s walls or with friends at a basketball game, they bring suggestions to our quality-improvement process, providing everyone with an added perspective.

The auxiliary is held in such high esteem by company officials that the president has an automatic seat on the hospital’s governing board.   

But the groups’ influence is not just local. LAMC’s group also claims a distinguished history of service to the State Auxiliary. With just around 100 members, this auxiliary has played an active role at the New Mexico level, providing numerous committee members and no less than six state presidents – a job that requires extensive travel to visit other facilities and their organizations. Their ability to produce outstanding leaders is well known and respected among other auxiliaries.

Finally, as all of this giving demonstrates, Auxilians model the world’s best work ethic. Their shifts are covered, their customer service is always excellent, their smiles are sincere, and most of all, they enjoy their jobs. How do we know? Day after day, year after year, they’re doing it for free.

My personal message: I salute these health-care-minded civic heroes and thank them from my heart for what they do for our hospital and Los Alamos. They are a diamond among gems.