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The personal touch of Jan Van Riper
"You're still here?" It's a greeting Jan Van Riper is accustomed to hearing when Island residents and visitors enter Martha's Vineyard Hospital. Jan, after all, has been a volunteer at the hospital for the past 25 years. She's watched countless patients, doctors and staff come and go, as she has racked up more than 8,000 hours of work. Turning 81 in January, Jan plans to continue volunteering as long as she can.
Jan Van Riper at work in the hospital.
Pat Corr, Director of Volunteers for the past seven years, praises Jan's contribution to the hospital. "She knows the answer to any question. She knows where to send everyone and what to do. She's worth her weight in gold and welcome anywhere in the hospital."
The hospital maintains a volunteer corps of approximately 47, including several assigned to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. According to Hospital CEO Tim Walsh, volunteers play an integral role in serving the community's needs. "I think our volunteers are an important part of what makes Martha's Vineyard Hospital so special. Jan is a wonderful person with a big heart. She's been doing great things for us for a long, long time."
Volunteers like Jan can fill in the gaps in a busy setting. "When I first got here it was a sleepy little hospital," she says. "I remember one of the x-ray techs used to do her knitting when it was slow. She's still here. I reminded her of that the other day and we just laughed." Because she doesn't have to attend to patients' medical needs, Jan has time to chat with them and their families. She sees herself as a bridge between the patient and the nurses and doctors.
Jan's husband died in 1981, 20 years after the Van Ripers retired to the Island. An avid bridge and Scrabble player, Jan stays busy walking the beach in nice weather and socializing with friends, many of whom she met over the years at the hospital. Her son's family visits regularly and Jan says she is happy watching the seasons change year-round on the Island. "My husband and I traveled extensively but now there's nowhere I'd rather be than right here," she says contentedly.
"I know it sounds like a cliché," she adds, "but I get back ten times what I give at the hospital. It's a caring, wonderful place to work." She's looking forward to seeing the construction of a new and improved hospital, she says, and hopes the recent affiliation with a "big city hospital" doesn't alter the unique atmosphere of the Island's own. "I guess it's inevitable," she says, sighing. Her warmth and concern for people, along with the efforts of her volunteer colleagues, should go a long way toward keeping the hospital a personal, attentive place to visit.