When a patient makes an appointment at the Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine clinic in Lakeland, there’s a good chance that someone along the way, they will be in contact with Pattie Johnson.
And if that’s the case, they are in good hands. Johnson, who has volunteered for the organization for 15 years, was named LVIM’s Volunteer of the Year for 2018.
The Volunteer of the Year award is a peer-selected process, and starts with the Volunteer of the Month candidates, according to Sherry Guin, the volunteer coordinator for LVIM.
“When we give out the volunteer of the month, it’s a very difficult decision for me because we have so many great volunteers,” says Guin. “You want to recognize people for their good work and you don’t want to be repetitive, so it can be a challenge.”
Guin says that for the Volunteer of the Year, each of the volunteers of the month are voted on by all of the volunteers.
“When it got to that level, Pattie won hands down,” says Guin. “She really has that teacher’s heart, and is willing to fill in wherever she is needed, which makes her perfect for what we do at Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine.”
Pattie Johnson’s teacher’s heart was earned in Lakeland, where she taught throughout her 30-year educational career. A native of Pennsylvania, Johnson went to Florida Southern College for her degree in education. After graduation, she stayed in Lakeland and taught kindergarten and first grade at Combee Elementary before retiring in 1998. After her retirement, Johnson said she was looking for a different way to get involved in the community.
“I wanted a change, and I knew I enjoyed working with people,” says Johnson. “When I saw the opportunity at Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, I decided to apply.”
Johnson became a scheduler, where she makes appointments for patients over the telephone and also schedules follow-up visits for people who have just seen a doctor. As she continued to volunteer, Johnson knew she had found her place.
“This is such a wonderful place,” she says. “There are so many people in need in this community and Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine is here to help them. I enjoy being around the people — the staff, the other volunteers.”
Johnson currently volunteers as a scheduler about four-and-a-half hours a week. She also serves on LVIM’s advisory committee board. Throughout her 15 years as a volunteer, Johnson has amassed over 3,200 volunteer hours.
“I feel like I am being a benefit to the community,” says Johnson, “and that helps in getting the emotional satisfaction we all need in life.”
When Johnson first started volunteering for LVIM, the organization was three years old and making inroads in its mission to provide free, high-quality health care to the working uninsured in Polk County. Since that time, LVIM has grown in the ways it meets its mission, and, as of mid-April, has grown into a new facility across from Lake Wire near downtown Lakeland.
That growth could not have happened without the organization’s volunteers, which outnumber the paid staff over 10-to-1, according Guin.
“We are very-much a volunteer-run organization,” she says. We have 20 employees, and currently have 235 active volunteers. This allows us the ability to switch people every four hours or so.”
The volunteers work in every facet of the clinic, from schedulers like Pattie Johnson, to medical staff, to records, to pharmaceutical to even the development office, according to Alice Koehler, LVIM’s Chief Development Officer.
This volunteer workforce helped the organization see 4,346 eligible patients during over 29,000 patient visits in 2018, said Koehler.
“When we take a step back and we write is all down, it does blow my mind all of the things we are able to do,” says Koehler. “What ties it all together is our volunteers and what we call our ‘Culture of Caring’.”
This “Culture of Caring,” according to the organization’s materials, recognizes the strengths of those in need and respects their dignity. It prompts the idea that the manner in which people are treated during a visit is as important as the medical care they receive. In the middle of it all, says Koehler, is the group of volunteers.
“We really say that our volunteers are the heartbeat of what we do,” says Koehler “and Pattie is a wonderful example of that heartbeat.”