Summerville Medical Center
PJ Johnson is plenty busy on the home front as CEO of Summerville Medical Center. But her work isn’t limited to the health care needs in the fast growing communities of Dorchester County.
It was her time she spent overseas, in fact, that earned her the Health Care Hero award in the “volunteer” category.
Last July, Johnson organized a mission trip to Honduras to bring much needed health care to the rural villages there.
With the help of an organization called Rivers of the World, a nonprofit Christian ministry targeting remote river basins, Johnson organized the team of volunteers from South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Washington.
Before heading over, she procured all the medicines and supplies the team needed. She also hosted meetings at her house to organize and finalize the intricate details. Her “can-do” spirit kept the team motivated, said Laura Perdue, a nurse at the Summerville Medical Center, who was a volunteer on the mission trip.
“I remember on one occasion where she told the group: ‘Do the best you can, work hard and define yourself by how much you accomplish,’” Perdue wrote in her nomination of Johnson.
This advice became the team’s mantra as they built a clinic and traveled to a different village each day. Some days, they made their way to two villages. During the trip, Johnson and her team of volunteers were able to deliver direct patient care to 816 people.
“When you gather a group of individuals to achieve a common goal to serve others, it is amazing what can be done,” Perdue wrote. “Because of PJ, this trip changed lives and will change the lives of those who will finally be able to get health care in a remote mountain village.”
A Georgia native, Johnson began nursing work at her alma mater, the Medical College of Georgia. After moving to Charleston, she worked for Roper Hospital, Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, and finally, Trident Health System.
She served as chief nursing officer and chief operating officer from 1996 to 2000 at Summerville Medical Center before moving to Trident Medical Center.
At Trident, Johnson served as chief operating officer before making the move back to Summerville in August 2007 as CEO.
Roper St. Francis Healthcare
Caroline Hunt has a knack for attracting dogs that she says are “underemployed,” who perhaps need something to keep them out of trouble.
As a volunteer pet therapist for the past 12 years, Hunt has given seven dogs the special job of comforting sick people in hospitals and nursing homes. She also facilitates therapy work for other dog-and-owner duos as pet therapy coordinator for Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
Her seven therapy partners have ranged from big, serious dogs to small, playful ones. The breed doesn’t matter if the dog has the right temperament, she said.
Some dogs are good at playing with children to help them relax, Hunt said; some are politicians, able to work a crowd of patients; and others have a calming presence and seek out patients or employees who are stressed.
Highlights of her therapy include happy and unexpected moments to those solemn and sad times.
She tells one story of a sick toddler who was panicking so much that his medicine had little effect and he could not breathe. His mother heard that a therapy dog was in the hospital and the staff had Hunt and her dog paged.
When they arrived, the mother grabbed the child from his oxygen tank and placed him on the dog’s back. Hunt did not know what was happening, but the boy turned a normal color and started breathing again.
She later learned that the child’s father was a police dog handler and his mother thought a dog would be familiar and comforting to the child.
Hunt also recalls a woman in a nursing home who was dying but hung on until the day Hunt typically visited with her German shepherd. When they appeared in the woman’s doorway, a nurse asked, “Is that the dog she talks about?”
The dog went to the woman and licked her cheek.
“She opened her eyes and smiled,” Hunt said. “After we left the room, she died.”
Not all her visits to patients are memorable, and it’s not always clear that the pet therapy has helped, she said.
“A lot of it is week after week after week, you go and you think, ‘Maybe I did a little good,’” Hunt said. “Once or twice a year, you get one of those epiphany experiences, and you think, ‘Oh, this is why I do this.’”
East Cooper Regional Medical Center
When Susie Robertson first volunteered to work at East Cooper Regional Medical Center two decades ago, she wasn’t expecting to be in a sales position.
Robertson, who has managed the hospital’s gift shop for 15 years and worked in it for 20 years, was never keen on selling things.
“I was never a salesman. I would make my mother buy all my Girl Scout cookies,” she said.
But Robertson went where she was needed at the hospital, and she immediately fell in love with the gift shop work. She meets people buying flowers, cards and other gifts at some of life’s happiest times and at some of life’s saddest moments.
“I love helping people,” she said. “Although I’m not actually up on the floor or going in patient rooms like some other volunteers, I’m down in the gift shop. But I feel that we’re doing our part in consoling and being with the families.”
Hospital volunteering has been a lifelong commitment of Robertson’s. She started young, as a candy striper at a veterans hospital in Charlotte, where she grew up. She worked in the canteen, serving soup and other snacks for veterans who had returned from Korea.
Robertson also volunteered in that hospital’s gift shop wrapping gifts at Christmas.
In her 20 years of volunteering for East Cooper Regional Medical Center, where she’s also in charge of fundraising, Robertson has clocked 13,500 hours of volunteer work.
She officially works for four hours on Fridays, but her work for the Mount Pleasant hospital goes beyond the shift. Robertson checks in almost daily and spends time away from the hospital ordering inventory and doing the other tasks required to keep the shop running smoothly.
The hospital’s gift shop donates its profits to charity. In her work, Robertson has raised more than $212,000. That money has gone to churches, scholarships for hospital workers and their family members, and a fund that helps patients who have trouble buying medicine and other supplies.
Robertson also serves on hospital volunteer organizations and has held several leadership posts in the S.C. Association of Hospital Auxiliaries.