National Volunteer Appreciation Week: Longtime Volunteer Flora Kelly Found A ‘Family’ at Health First
By Space Coast Daily // April 19, 2023
HOSPITAL VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT
For National Volunteer Appreciation Week beginning April 16, meet Flora Kelly, a 38-year veteran of the volunteer corps at Health First.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – When Flora Kelly retired, she and her husband Fred moved to Palm Bay to be closer to family. That closeness closed her in.
“I did not want to live with my retired husband 24 hours a day,” she remembers.
That was 1985. Ronald Reagan was the president, the top box-office draw was “Back to the Future,” and the first robotics-assisted surgery was performed. (Health First today schedules robotics-assisted surgeries across a range of procedures: rates of complications are lower while patient outcomes are much better.)
Two years later, Fred Kelly joined his wife as a volunteer at the hospital. What Flora Kelly found was a friendly and committed “family” at Health First.
“I wanted to meet other people,” she says, but it’s become a calling.
She was picked chairman of the volunteer auxiliary, served as vice president twice, president once, and finally, “consultant” on all matters. She’s also served as an official at the state level with the Association of Florida Healthcare Auxiliaries/Volunteers.
She watched Palm Bay Hospital being built. Not long after it opened in 1992, she moved her volunteering there from Holmes Regional Medical Center.
Sunny and Cool
Joelle Boccabella, Manager of Volunteer Services for Community Hospitals at Health First, says she relies on Flora Kelly for her vast knowledge of the culture, her coolness under pressure, and her sunny disposition.
“We’ve diffused quite a few different problems,” Kelly says. “I don’t enjoy problems! But I always see the best in people. I won’t dwell on what is wrong, and I like to know about their families. That’s good for me, that’s how I interact.”
A one-time keeper of records for a farming co-op in upstate New York, Kelly again finds herself in an office most days, this one just off the hospital cafeteria. (When she opens the door, she can smell breakfast being served.)
“I like doing the office work – you know who is coming in. And I relate to people.”
Before the pandemic, the ranks of volunteers at Health First numbered more than a thousand. Today, they’re half that. Many Health First volunteers who went home in 2020 to be safe didn’t return.
“I feel the hospital is one of the safest places to be,” Kelly said, but she understands others’ perspectives.
Some of the needs Health First’s hospitals have: Courtesy Cart drivers, Patient Enhancement Team members (visiting patient floors), and information desk attendants throughout the hospital.
“Our volunteers’ ages range from 15 to 93,” Boccabella says. “They’re high school students and retirees. They work on patient floors and the gift shops, physical therapy, surgical units.”
“Each one has to have an orientation before they begin, and I begin every single one thanking them because there’s so many opportunities to serve in Brevard County, and they choose Health First. We’re privileged, and our patients benefit.”
“All our volunteers, no matter their age, have this in common – they want to give back, and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Health First is a cornerstone of this community.”
To learn more about volunteering at Health First, visit HF.org/volunteer.