UConn Health Volunteer Tells of His Rewarding Experience

Larry Winnick is among those who returned after the volunteer program’s pandemic hiatus

Volunteer in blue coat pushing cart of linens in emergency department

Larry Winnick, who was an emergency medical technician for six years, is a volunteer in the UConn Health John Dempsey Hospital Emergency Department. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

Larry Winnick knows his way around UConn Health, in part because he’s been a patient for nearly 20 years.

He especially knows his way around UConn Health’s Emergency Department, where he’s been volunteering several days a week for the last six months, focusing on the patients. Winnick interacts with them, making certain they’re comfortable, and acts as a liaison between them and the nursing staff.

I don’t leave here on any given day without feeling good about giving at least one person a chance to smile. — Larry Winnick

A former emergency medical technician in Monroe who also volunteered in the ED at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, Winnick is one of nearly 30 UConn Health volunteers who are on-site regularly.

Larry Winnick portrait
Larry Winnick is one of nearly 30 volunteers with regular shifts at UConn Health. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

“I’ve been a volunteer all my life, so this was kind of a natural thing to do,” Winnick says.

Winnick’s volunteerism at UConn Health goes back to before the pandemic put the program on hold. He had a brief stint in the gastroenterology practice before all the volunteers were sent home March 2020.

Last year, he worked with Lisa DeToma in UConn Health’s Office of Patient Experience and Eileen Scully, the ED’s nurse manager, to come up with a new arrangement to take full advantage of his experience.

“We recognized the need for a liaison to patients in the ED to keep them informed and have someone they can talk to who makes certain that they haven’t been forgotten,” Winnick says. “And it really helps. Information is power, so it helps people a lot to know that there’s somebody who’s got an eye on them.”

“Larry is extremely passionate about improving the human experience for each person who enters the ED,” DeToma says. “He is a great ambassador for volunteer services and is willing to help any way he can to grow the program.”

Scully says Winnick is always ready to get to work as soon as he arrives.

“He rounds on patients in the department, and he has a Voalte phone so that he can contact the patient’s nurse with any questions,” Scully says, referring to the handheld communication device staff members use. “He provides warm blankets and pillows to the patients, which patients and their families love. He has such a great positive attitude. We are so happy to have him as a part of our Emergency Department team!”

After a year with no volunteers on site, they started coming back to assist with entry screening in April 2021. A group of five volunteers gradually grew to 15 over the next year.

“In the spring of 2022, we began ‘re-opening’ other volunteer opportunities within the institution,” DeToma says. “Since then, our volunteers have made a significant contribution to UConn Health, especially with the overall human experience — just to name a few: greeting patients and visitors at the information desks, visiting our elderly patient population, and Eucharistic ministers providing spiritual support by distributing Communion to Catholic patients.”

DeToma says she hears from prospective volunteers with regularity, and her office looks for new opportunities where volunteers can improve the human experience. She says about half the volunteers are new since reopening from the pandemic.

Learn more about UConn Health Volunteer Services.

Winnick has kept quite busy in his retirement from a career that spanned decades in customer service and marketing. He also volunteers for West Hartford’s food pantry and its Community Emergency Response Team. He also has volunteered with his wife for Auerfarm in Bloomfield.

“I don’t know that I have words for what I get from volunteering,” Winnick says. “At UConn, it’s a giveback to the kindness the medical staff gives you when you’ve been in need, that’s No. 1. And it’s the reward of feeling good about what you’re doing, because I don’t leave here on any given day without feeling good about giving at least one person a chance to smile. When you can put a smile on somebody’s face, you walk away knowing that you’ve had a little bit of an impact on their life at a time when they most need it.”

National Volunteer Week is generally observed during the third week in April.