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  November 5, 2001

Health Center's Unsung Heroes
Donate Thousands of Volunteer Hours

For years, Raymond Cuatto of Avon helped manage business operations for a large manufacturing company. James Keener of West Hartford spent most of his career teaching and directing the television studio at the University of Hartford. It wasn't until they retired that their careers took a common path - both turned to volunteer work at the UConn Health Center.

Keener now spends about eight hours a week at John Dempsey Hospital. He carries blood samples from patient to laboratory, or pushes someone in a wheelchair, getting them to the doctor, to tests or X-rays, or to the front lobby when they're discharged to go home. Sometimes he works at the desk in the front lobby, giving visitors directions to different corners of the Health Center or, once, to the nearest casino.

Cuatto spends his time in the Department of Medicine, where he makes copies, files, or handles mailings. On Wednesday and Friday mornings, he handles whatever office tasks are sent his way. He and Barbara Cusati, administrative officer for the department, worked together at The Torrington Co. 25 years ago.

When Cuatto retired from his job as business manager for the company, one of the first things he did was call Cusati. "I asked her if she needed a gopher," he says. "I love being retired, but I wanted to do something with my time," adds Cuatto, who also volunteers at his church. "The people here are wonderful, so I really look forward to coming in."

Since he started his volunteer work in February 1992, he has donated more than 3,500 hours of work to the Health Center. "He has saved us tens of thousands of dollar by doing many of the tasks that just have to be done, and he's willing to help with anything," says Cusati.

"For me, spending time here is a way of saying thanks," says Keener, who began volunteering at the hospital two years ago. "My son was in a horrible accident nearly 20 years ago and spent more than a month in John Dempsey Hospital. I came to see him every day and I was so grateful for the care he received from everyone here that I wanted to return the favor."

His chance came about two years ago. "I had been retired for about a year," Keener says. "My wife said it was time for me to think about getting out of the house more." So he turned to the Health Center, where he is a volunteer for four hours, two days a week. Already he has donated more than 700 hours.

"As a volunteer I hope I can help make the job a little bit easier for a doctor or a nurse," he says. "I can track down some platelets or X-rays, so they can spend more time caring for their patients."

Cuatto and Keener have nearly 600 colleagues in the volunteer department. Altogether, the group gives more than 52,000 hours of work, worth nearly $750,000 annually. "Without them, I truly don't believe we could keep operating," says Susan Manzi, administrator of volunteer services. "They are dedicated to the Health Center and serve as its goodwill ambassadors."

Volunteers in the Emergency Department help serve as go-betweens with staff and family members. In Payroll, a volunteer helps with the paper work. In the Human Resources Department, another volunteer regularly assembles the thick information folders for regular employee orientation sessions.

Says Manzi, "They are our unsung heroes."

Kristina Goodnough