Judges for NJBIZ’s 2019 Healthcare Heroes Awards, which honors individuals and organizations making a significant impact on the quality of health care in New Jersey, selected Michael Ellis of Long Branch as a finalist for Volunteer of the Year earlier this summer. He was nominated by Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Since 2013, Ellis has volunteered at the medical center in the pastoral care department, donating more than 700 hours to help patients and their families, who consistently express what a wonderful impact his visits have made, according to Michael Rafter, CSW, manager of volunteer services and switchboard operations at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “With deep care and simple humility, Michael is a master when it comes to easing patients’ burdens and lifting their hearts — in prayer and song — during what is often their most difficult time,” Rafter said.
For more than 30 years, Ellis’ volunteer work at the hospital has also included a caroling program. Each year, he recruits approximately 20 members from the community to volunteer their time singing Christmas carols to patients and their families, visiting various floors throughout the hospital and making meaningful connections along the way.
“I’m not an emotional man, and I’ve cried each year we’ve gone out,” said Rafter, who works closely with Ellis and accompanies him during holiday caroling events. “Michael is a genuine, generous person in terms of time and spirit — he’s very involved in his church and is also very inclusive. He is even-keeled, patient-centered, and caring.”
One of Ellis’ most memorable interactions caroling occurred when he and his music encouraged a woman who had been silent for several days to carry on a conversation, accept an outstretched hand to hold, and join his group in song. “This kind of transformative experience, from feeling isolated and alone to being seen and heard, plays out on a regular basis as Michael finds new ways to fill individual spiritual voids, making a positive impact through volunteerism,” Rafter said.
Annamarie Cutroneo, vice president of patient experience and customer relations at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, added that Ellis has made a tremendous impact on team members as well. “Michael’s unique contribution of time and energy motivates and inspires our team in the challenging work they do every day,” she said. “He has a way of enhancing their experience in the process of helping our patients.”
In addition to his volunteering activities at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ellis has donated his time at Monmouth Medical Center in the pastoral care department since 2013 and annual caroling events for 30-plus years. He also recently began volunteering in the pastoral care department at Riverview Medical Center.
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At the NJBIZ 2019 Healthcare Heroes Awards at The Palace at Somerset Park, is, from left, Michael Ellis and Hackensack Meridian Health Chief of Staff and Vice President Kenneth Esser.