Barton Health replacing volunteers with paid employees at The Attic |

Barton Health replacing volunteers with paid employees at The Attic

Claire Cudahy
Sandy Kinney, a Barton Auxiliary member, takes stock of donation items before they are put out for sale at The Attic Thrift Store.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

For many elderly Barton Auxiliary members, volunteering at The Attic Thrift Store and hospital gift shop has been a part of their lives for as long as 20 to 30 years. But starting Jan. 1, these volunteers will be replaced with paid employees — and it’s been a difficult pill to swallow.

“People are very sad and very upset. This is their social life; this is what gives meaning to them. It gives them something to do,” said Margaret Grodzik, a 15-year member of the Barton Auxiliary.

“We are all upset about this,” expressed Elaine Smith, who joined the auxiliary in 1980. “I started cashiering at The Attic every Wednesday back in ’87. We really enjoyed it and had a lot of friends there. It was just a shock because we’ve been making a lot of money for the hospital for many years.”

“I’ve been in the gift shop for 20 years. I’ve been in charge of the cheese balls for 10 years,” said Pearl Parks, another auxiliary member. “For me, I feel like somebody has died.”

“This is their social life; this is what gives meaning to them.” Margaret Grodzik Barton Auxiliary member and Attic volunteer

According to a letter from Barton Health President and CEO Clinton Purvance, the hospital board based its decision on a U.S. Supreme Court case (Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation v. Secretary of Labor) and guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The court case, which dates back to 1985, involved a religious foundation that operated several businesses with “associates” — mostly former drug addicts or criminals — who worked in return for food and lodging. The labor secretary sued, alleging violations of federal minimum wage laws, and won.

“The Court also found that even though the workers protested, did not want to accept wages, and wanted to volunteer, these facts had no effect on the determination,” wrote Purvance.

In short, a retail operation open to the public is less likely to face a lawsuit of this sort if it employs paid workers.

“It was a difficult call for the hospital, which so deeply values the contributions of the auxiliary,” added Purvance.

The Attic, which is stocked by donations, and the hospital gift shop are two of the main ways the auxiliary raises funds to help purchase important equipment for Barton Memorial Hospital, like X-ray machines and ultra-sound equipment.

In the last fiscal year, which ended Oct. 31, The Attic grossed $33,348, while the gift shop earned $14,674. The volunteer-run 46th annual Holiday Faire — which included the sale of all the best items from The Attic and the auxiliary’s famous cheese balls — totaled $12,335.

In October alone, 54 auxiliary volunteers worked 1,712 hours for a total contribution equivalent of $39,020.

Barton Health staff reiterated that the decision to move to paid employees was not based on a lack of appreciation for the contributions made by the auxiliary over the years.

“Barton Auxiliary members are an integral and important part of Barton Health,” said Mindi Befu, director of marketing and public relations at Barton Health. “We understand this change impacts Auxiliary members differently, and [Barton will] support all members through this transition.”

Auxiliary members were encouraged to apply for the paid positions that were available.

“Barton Health will have ten paid positions: three positions at The Attic Thrift Store and seven positions at the Hospital Gift Shop, in which seven of these positions have already been filled by former volunteers,” noted Befu.

But many of the volunteers are in their 70s and 80s, and are unable to commit to a full- or part-time job.

“I’ve been in the auxiliary 30 years and lived here for 61,” said Barbara Ritchin, a gift shop volunteer. “I just want to volunteer. I’m 87 years old, and I don’t work as many hours as I used to.”

“I don’t want to be paid, I want to give back to the community,” added Parks.

Linda Coffman, recording secretary for Barton Auxiliary, is one of the volunteers who will be taking on a part-time paid position at the gift shop.

“I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it because I want to continue to help,” said Coffman, an auxiliary member of 10 years.

Auxiliary president Sandy Killian said she understands why many members are “shocked” by this change, but she is optimistic for the future of Barton Auxiliary.

“My goal is to work with the hospital to keep the auxiliary functioning. It’s an asset to the patients and their families and the community,” stated Killian.

In the upcoming auxiliary newsletter, Killian said she would outline a number of different volunteer opportunities for those displaced from their current position.

“I like change, and some people don’t like change at all, and that’s the hard part,” said Killian. “We’re going to keep going. I’m a positive thinker, and let’s move forward.”

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