He’s in it for the camaraderie, the exercise and to help people find what they are looking for.
Despite his name, Wait doesn’t do much waiting around in his job as a way-finding volunteer at the Spectrum Health Medical Center campus.
“He’s the consummate volunteer,” said Kim Francis, director of volunteer services. “He really takes initiative and is always doing something extra.”
Wait, 72, is based at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center for a five-hour shift every Tuesday and Thursday morning. He greets visitors with a wide smile then assists them in finding their destination, no matter what building it is in.
“After I retired, I wanted to do something,” said Wait, who has volunteered for Spectrum Health for more than six years. “I used to volunteer at the Michigan Blood bank. That was a good job, but there was no people contact. I enjoy this because I like to talk and kibitz.”
On a recent Thursday, Wait stood near the heart center elevators, waiting to assist. Off to the left, he noticed a woman in a wheelchair being pushed through the entry doors.
Wait hurried over and asked if he could help. Elaine Bowman and Rita Waugh had traveled from Detroit to pick up Bowman’s ex-husband, who was being discharged from Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital that morning.
“I like to push people around,” Wait joked as he pushed Waugh toward a back elevator, en route to a second floor room.
The Cascade Township resident pointed out paintings in the hallway as he pushed, explaining that the collection gets rotated periodically for variety.
After arriving at her ex’s room, Bowman let him know it was time to go. Wait suggested she pull up to the valet parking in front of Butterworth for easy pick-up.
En route back to the Butterworth exit, Wait pulled the wheelchair up to a coffee kiosk so Waugh could get a cold Pepsi. He then gave directions to I-96 eastbound, so Bowman could find her way back to Detroit, and said goodbye to them through the car window.
“I love this,” Wait said of his volunteer work. “This just kind of hit the niche. I don’t like standing around and not doing anything. As I walk around the hospital, I look for people who might be lost and help them out. You can tell if they’re lost by the way they look, kind of like a deer in a headlight.”
“A lot of times when people come into the hospital they’re under stress and they have to deal with lots of traffic,” Wait said. “The sooner I can say, ‘Good morning, can I help you?’ the sooner they can relax.”
Wait acknowledges it can be difficult to navigate the sprawling downtown campus. It took him a few weeks to feel comfortable guiding others.
“There are five or six elevators and you have to learn that everything hinges off an elevator bank,” he said. “You have to learn the floors and how to get to emergency, the back way, the front way and the side way.”
Wait said if he tries to give directions, “turn right here, then left, then left again, then right,” it can get confusing. He prefers just to take them, and make friendly conversation while they travel.
If they’re nervous about finding their way back, Wait shares his pager number so they can contact him for a return trip.
“It makes me feel good to be able to do something important,” he said. “As a side bonus, it gives me exercise and keeps me moving. I rub elbows with executives, doctors, nurses and support staff all day long. It makes me feel part of a team and makes me feel in my own little way that I’m helping out.”