“… we think that it is an experiment which is likely to prove a benefit to the Hospital and that it ought to be tried. We are able to think of no objections to the plan except that the Hospital is very well managed as it is, and that it is unwise to disturb what is satisfactory. But it seems to us that, although the Hospital is probably about as well managed as men can manage it, it may be found that with the help of judicious women it may be managed better.” 
–From the MGH Board of Trustees, 1869

The MGH was nearing its 50th year of operation when hospital trustees approved a proposal from several women in the city who wished to volunteer their time to visit with patients and serve as “female wards of the Hospital.” And so the Ladies Visiting Committee (LVC) was born, becoming one of the first hospital auxiliaries in the country.

Now, 150 years later, what started as a small group of women has grown to be a 90-plus member organization. While the size and scope of the LVC has changed throughout its history, the dedication, commitment and drive to supporting the hospital, its patients and its staff, remains the focal mission of the volunteer group.

“The LVC has enjoyed a long, successful and fulfilling history based on our core traditional values of leadership, compassion, inclusivity and commitment,” says Janet Shipman, chair of the LVC and a member since 2008. “And we plan to continue to evolve, grow and strengthen our group, seeking out new ways for how we can best support the MGH in the future.”

Among its many roles, the LVC oversees the MGH General Stores and Flower Shop. “Every single purchase made at its seven locations goes directly into funds used by the LVC to give back to the hospital,” says Rose McCabe, a member of the LVC since 2003 and chair of the LVC Shops Committee. “MGH staff are invited to apply to the LVC for grants to fund patient programs, services and activities.”

On April 2 – in recognition of the LVC’s 150th anniversary – its members will visit MGH departments throughout the main campus to drop off chocolate goodies and information about the MGH General Stores. In addition, shoppers on that day can take 20 percent off purchases, with Preferred Card holders taking an additional 10 percent off. “We look forward to meeting more MGH staff members and are excited to share this wonderful anniversary with them,” says Hattie Kessler, LVC member for 5 years.

Adds Betty Raymond, LVC member for 9 years, “Though many years have gone by since the LVC was first created, the group remains dedicated and committed to enhancing the MGH experience in any way that contributes to the comfort and well-being of patients, their families and the entire hospital community.”

For more information, and for a grant application form, visit the LVC page on Apollo, the MGH intranet.

“Its members arrange creative activities for assigned children, play games with them, teach them handicrafts, read aloud and perform other services to meet the social and emotional needs of these lonely or disturbed young patients.” -From the Ladies Visiting Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital 1869-1969 history booklet

Providing comfort for the hospital’s youngest patients – and support to their parents – has been a central theme for LVC members since its inception. Today, the LVC provides numerous donations throughout the year including books, toys, games, videos and art supplies. It also funds support groups, educational programs, and the creation of personalized comfort baskets to every pediatric family that has experienced the death of a family member.

“The LVC has made such an incredible impact in the lives of our pediatric patients and their families,” says Anne Pizzano, child life manager for MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). “The grants they fund allow us to purchase diversional materials for our Emergency Department, as well as enabling us to offer various supports for siblings and parents of the MGHfC community. In addition to these contributions, the LVC has brought the comforts of home to the hospital by providing hand-made blankets and a hot cup of coffee for parents. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful group of volunteers who care so deeply about the hospital and our youngest patients.”

“They tactfully prodded the Trustees to allocate a larger sum for carriage rides for convalescent patients as a sanitary measure, enabling them to breathe a different and purer atmosphere to so stimulate and invigorate the patients as to enable them to be sooner discharged.” -From the Ladies Visiting Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital 1869-1969 history booklet

During the 1870s, the LVC requested – and received – money to pay for carriage rides for patients, knowing the positive benefits of fresh air and a change of scenery. The belief hasn’t changed over the course of more than a century and the LVC now donates funds to the Revere Youth Zone’s summer camp to help students cover transportation costs, scholarships and field trip expenses.

“Last year the money provided scholarships for 20 children to come to camp who otherwise would not have been able to attend,” says Leslie Heffron, RN, nurse educator at Revere HealthCare Center. “We’re able to take more trips because of this support and offer experiences that we aren’t able to offer to the kids in Revere. It’s really significant in so many ways. I’m hugely grateful because the children get to be outside in the woods in nature. They get to be outside hiking, sailing down at the beach, playing in the water. It’s a huge benefit to them – physically, mentally and emotionally. They thrive being outside in the summer.”

“They reported that water pitchers should be covered – long before it was common hospital practice in Boston. A Lady Visitor worked without rest until she found a practical, covered water pitcher and several dozen were ordered by the Committee.” -From the Ladies Visiting Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital 1869-1969 history booklet

Since its early roots, LVC members have been dedicated to supporting cutting-edge programs that benefit MGH patients and staff. Recently, David R. King, MD, trauma and acute care surgeon, was awarded a grant to fund the purchase of 73 wound-packing and tourniquet kits that were placed in all automated external defibrillator (AED) cabinets on the MGH main campus, and funding for the creation of an instructional video outlining the proper use of the first-aid equipment.

“The LVC played a pivotal role in this training program,” says King. “Thanks to this generous grant, I was able to educate hundreds of MGH staff how to correctly apply a tourniquet. This is extremely important as emergencies can happen at any time, anywhere.”

“In the next one hundred years, may the Chapel Committee and the Chapel Flower Committee guard the chapel with exquisite taste and sensitivity. May no sound be prolonged to disturb the quiet atmosphere where man may find spiritual hope and ease of mind and heart. May neither flowers, nor greens, nor furnishings, detract from the nobility of the Romanesque architecture or from the supreme glory of its stained glass windows. In so doing, the Ladies Visiting Committee will keep faith with the magnanimity and the spirit of [chapel founder] Bishop William Lawrence.”  -From the Ladies Visiting Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital 1869-1969 history booklet

This passage was written in honor of the LVC’s momentous 100th anniversary in 1969. The LVC continues to support and enhance the Spiritual Care Department’s programs, while also ensuring that the beauty and tranquility of the chapel remains. In recent years, the LVC has donated funds for the purchase of 42 prayer trees so patients, their families and staff may document their wishes and prayers on colorful ribbons.

“The LVC has been an instrumental part of our department since the chapel opened in 1941,” says Rev. Alice Cabotaje, director of Spiritual Care and Education. “From their early support in the actual creation of the chapel to their ongoing dedication to providing weekly flower arrangements that brighten and beautify the altar, the LVC helps us to touch the lives of our patients and staff during times of contemplation, grief and joy.”

“During the 1970s, the Committee suggest that ‘a limited number of rocking chairs with high backs in each ward, as well as a number of men’s and women’s sacks and dressing gowns, costing not more than $1.25 each, would contribute to the comfort of such patients as are apt to sit up.’” -From the Ladies Visiting Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital 1869-1969 history booklet

Recently, a mother brought her son to the Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington for an appointment. English was not her first language, her son was non-verbal, there were multiple providers involved, and the conversation became overwhelming. Thanks to the recent addition of a laptop and video phone provided through a grant from the LVC – a solution was immediate. An MGH Spanish language medical interpreter was contacted and she spent the next two-and-a-half-hours interpreting the clinical consultation, helping the care team and the patient family.

“What helped was that over the video, the interpreter could read the visual cues of the mother and she could see the mother didn’t understand many of the questions because they were so complex,” says Chris Kirwan, clinical director of MGH Medical Interpreter Services. “The interpreter was able to inform the medical team that this was happening and she helped to rephrase the questions so the mother could better understand what information they needed. At the end, everyone was thrilled about the outcome. It was as successful as it could have been – in part because the LVC provided us with the ability to offer that type of modality.”

This article was originally published in the 03/22/19 Hotline issue.