Ron Connolly, RN, Pays It Forward
It was at his father’s wake that volunteer Ron Connolly, Registered Nurse (RN) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), first thought about sharing his talents with the Order of Malta Clinic. Although he had read about the clinic in the Diocesan newspaper, it was only when he talked to Dr. Vona Lorenzano, the clinic’s Medical Director, at the wake that the seed was planted to volunteer.
“This is a way to carry on a tradition that my father started: the opportunity to truly serve others with my professional skills and at the same time live out my Catholic faith and beliefs,” Connolly says. “It is also a continuation of a path to work in a unique patient-centered clinical setting that barely exists anymore.”
Connolly recounts his journey as beginning with his work in his father’s medical practice. “I was blessed to have five years working as a nurse with my father, a rheumatologist. That experience led me to see the world in a different way, giving me the opportunity to step back and truly see all of the blessings that we have. When I started to volunteer at the clinic, I realized I had talents that I could share with other people,” he recalls.
Connolly’s father treated his patients with patience. They were like family. There wasn’t a requirement to see patients in 15-minute increments. There was plenty of time to establish rapport and build trust. Providing access to care also was a mission. Connolly’s father would help those who didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay, values that had a profound effect on his son.
“I lost my dad and my job at the same time. Out of respect for what Dad taught and my own Catholic beliefs, I wanted to continue to practice medicine, but still make a difference like he did,” Connolly reflects. He found the perfect opportunity at the Order of Malta Clinic.
After the wake, Dr. Lorenzano called Connolly to request support on treatment options for a particularly challenging patient case. What started as a phone consultation, grew to a more extensive volunteer schedule.
Connolly started working at the clinic every other week for half a day, which quickly grew to a half day once a week. He was impressed by the depth of care and knowledge from the volunteer medical staff, and energized by the caring environment and professionalism of volunteers and staff.
“Most of our providers are not from primary care,” he says. “This works to our advantage because we have this incredibly talented pool of specialists to draw from every day. We have neurologists with 40 years of experience, and cardiologists with 30. This translates to our being able to provide outstanding patient care with a fraction of the resources and overhead of a standard medical practice.”
In addition to his medical credentials, Connolly could also wear the badge of “Recruiter in Chief.” He points out the need for additional volunteers, with or without medical backgrounds; a willingness to spend time with patients is all that’s required. “You can learn from just listening to the patient. Eighty-five percent of the diagnosis is in the patient history if you have and take the time to listen,” Connolly says.
Connolly believes that the clinic is instrumental in creating a moment in time where volunteers can reflect on the gifts they bring to others, even if their skills don’t seem special in their own minds. “If you have IT skills, we need you, because our doctors can’t fix our computers. Are you a good listener? You can conduct intake and hear what patients need.” Connolly remembers the impact volunteers had on a patient who worked two full-time jobs just to pay off her ER bill. “Our volunteers helped her with the charitable deduction paperwork to reduce the cost,” he says.
“The clinic provides a venue to take the best care of the patient that you can within your abilities,” he notes. Equally important, it provides a space to be present doing the best job you can whether you are a doctor, a nurse or a volunteer without a medical background. You see it in the quality of patient care and the decreased costs. You won’t see that anywhere else whether insured or free. It’s our breadth of volunteers that make the clinic.”
Connolly believes that “being at the clinic changes you and changes how you view things.” Although it’s easy to get comfortable in your own routine, what’s so rewarding is “treating those difficult cases where because patients did not have insurance for 10 to 15 years, their health issues went unaddressed. Inconsistent access to care greatly exacerbates health issues.”
In reflecting on his journey, he harkens back to his conversation with Dr. Lorenzano at the wake. “You have a sense of grief when something bad happens, like the loss of a parent. That’s normal. The beauty of volunteering at the clinic at that juncture in my life was that I learned I had blessings that I could share with other people. I have no intention of leaving anytime soon.”
The Order of Malta Clinic staff, patients and volunteers are grateful for that commitment, compassion and enthusiasm.
Thank you, Nurse Ron.