by: Brent Woronoff
A lot of the volunteer work Patty Mercer does for AdventHealth Palm Coast is behind the scenes. It’s important work: corporate compliance paperwork, taxes, licenses, filing annual reports.
But because of the pandemic she hasn’t been able to volunteer at the hospital since mid-March.
With more than 13,000 hours of volunteering since 2005, Patty Mercer is "a great help."
— MARGE SISTI
“I just really miss that we’re not able to be there,” she said. “One day a week was my duty day at the visitors’ information desk. I was greeting people and talking to people and helping them. You know, it really gave me a purpose.”
Needing a sense of purpose is what impelled Mercer to join the hospital’s volunteer auxiliary about 15 years ago.
A Colorado native, she retired at age 50 in 2003 and moved to Halifax Plantation a year later with her husband, Michael.
“We got the opportunity to retire early,” she said. “We were DINKs — double income, no kids. My brother-in-law lives in Palm Coast, so we had come down to visit him a few times.”
They moved in June 2004, and it didn’t take long for them to have second thoughts.
“That was the beginning of that horrendous hurricane season,” she said. “I thought, ‘What have I done?’ I left all my friends, all my family, a job that I absolutely loved. It was quite the adjustment.”
Mercer had worked in water rights management and administration for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“My job took me all over the state,” she said. “In remote places we went on horseback, we went on ATVs, we went on hikes.”
Adjusting to a life of leisure in Florida wasn’t so easy. One day, while trying to find a doctor, she went to the hospital and spoke to a couple of volunteers. Shortly thereafter she joined the auxiliary, at first doing administration work in the office and then volunteering at the nurse’s station, the ER and the information desk.
“I’m really more of a people person,” she said. “So I started venturing out to other departments.”
After less than a year a couple of auxiliary board members invited her to join the board. She served two terms as second vice president in which one of her duties was keeping track of volunteer hours which gave her a chance to get to know all of the 200-plus volunteers. In 2010-11, she served as board president. She is currently a board member at-large.
“She’s quite a lady,” said auxiliary treasurer Jeanette Kainu. “She’s very efficient, very thorough. No matter what you need done, Patty is always there. She works very hard keeping us current on all the different permits we need. You have to license to get donations. There’s a lot more to it than people think.”
When she was the board president she delegated many duties that the president always did to other board members.
“People like to have something. They like to have a purpose. They like to take ownership with what they’re involved in,” she said.
But most of the day-to-day volunteer work – support in the ER, nurse’s stations, same-day surgery, the information desk, the gift shop, courtesy cart drivers – are currently on hold.
“I’ve been thinking, when can we go back and volunteer?” Mercer said. “I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting. When you volunteer, you feel like you’re really contributing to the community, making a difference. Somebody walks in the front door and they’re freaking out because a family member has just got taken to ER. You talk to them, find out what’s going on, you walk them down the hall to ER, make sure you hand them off to someone who can take care of them, calm them.
“You’re worth something when you feel like you’re contributing,” she said. “What you’re doing is worthwhile.”
Mercer was given the 2011 Volunteer of the Year award from Flagler Volunteer Services. The inscription to the plaque says this: "By demonstrating the values that we stand for, your everyday work, you have become a true leader in our organization. You have taken it upon yourself to lead the way with great tact and dependability. You stand out, you motivate others to perform at their best leading the entire team toward ultimate success. Thanks for pointing us the right direction."