For UMMC’s top volunteers, it’s all about relationships
Published on Thursday, November 16, 2017
By: Ruth Cummins
When Tom Starling and Shellie Bailey retired, they weren’t content with going to the house.
They came to the University of Mississippi Medical Center – Starling, to the Adult Hospital Emergency Department, and Bailey, to Batson Children’s Hospital. They are the Medical Center’s 2017 Volunteers of the Year, an accolade each earned after completing hundreds of hours of service, thousands of smiles, and not-to-be quantified goodness of heart.
Starling retired in 2016 after 40 years as an attorney; Bailey retired 26 years ago as an Air Force colonel and pilot following a long military career. Starling had barely put down the law books before starting his mornings at the ED in January 2017.
She appreciates “Mr. Tom” for his acumen as a business professional, said Patrice Donald, the Medical Center’s new director of patient and family advocacy in the Office of Patient Experience. “He is sharp, very focused on what he is doing, and has great social skills,” Donald said. “He has the personality and charisma to handle the only Level I trauma center in the state.”
“In my first encounter with Mr. Shellie, I was greeted with a hug,” Donald said. “I immediately felt welcomed, and I knew then we had the right volunteer on our team.”
“I couldn’t sit around the house,” said Starling, 73, a Jackson resident who’s married and has three children and three grandchildren. “I got bored, and I went through orientation at UMMC.”
In the ED, he said, “I take patients back to the different rooms after they go through triage. I enjoy it. It keeps me active.”
“We absolutely adore him. He’s super nice and friendly, and willing to do anything for anyone, whether they’re an employee or a patient,” said Ashley Sigler, a registered nurse in the Adult ED.
“He always goes the extra mile. His wife makes him wear his tennis shoes up here instead of his loafers,” she said. “When he leaves every day, he says, ‘It’s my nap time,’ and then he goes to our cafeteria and eats lunch.”
Starling’s not ruffled when extremely sick or injured patients come through. “One reason I enjoy it so much is that I’ve gotten to know the staff and the nurses and the guards,” Starling said. “I’ve made some personal friends from working there.”
The same is true for Bailey, a Clinton resident who has spent many hours visiting with parents and grandparents of children in the Pediatric ICU and on the Batson patient floors.
“He’s wonderful,” Courtney Fairchilds, charge nurse in the Pediatric ICU, says of Bailey. “He’s precious. He’s always smiling. It’s nice to have volunteers like Mr. Bailey so that they can direct patient flow. They get a list of the daily census, and that’s helpful so that people don’t have to come into the PICU so that they can find someone.”
Bailey said retired Highway Patrolman Mike Holmes of Clinton convinced him to volunteer at Batson. At a local restaurant, “he stopped by my table one day, and he broke down and cried talking about some of the kids at Batson,” Bailey remembered. “I said, ‘I might as well get on up there.’
“I love talking to people,” said Bailey, a widower and father of four children who keeps up with six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “I’ve had some great relationships with parents and grandparents of kids. They’ll come up to the ICU for several months at a time, and then be gone, and then they come back.”
He recently began making rounds on the Batson patient floors, asking parents and family if there’s anything he can do to help make their stay more comfortable. “I love to feel like I’m helping somebody, whether it’s giving them directions or talking about what they’d like to talk about.”
Both gentlemen stay busy when they’re not on campus. “I like to read. I go through a book or two, and then I go out to the mall and shop some,” Starling said.
Bailey, who served as a pilot instructor and commander of the 172nd Airlift Wing at the Mississippi Air Guard, plays golf and works out at the Baptist Healthplex in Clinton. For an 81-year-old, “I’m in pretty good health,” he said.
“I admire him for the time that he has devoted to volunteering here in less than a year,” Donald said of Starling. “I am proud to know that we have such a reliable volunteer.”
Donald said she’s thankful to Bailey, a volunteer for three-plus years, for his military service. “Now, he’s serving with the most precious gift of all: his time,” she said.