How our skybridge cart drivers build connections

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Shuttle_Drivers_072.jpgBy Lindsey Garner

"We laugh, cut up, wear costumes, sing and dance," Ron Richards says.

This may sound like a variety show performance, but it's just another day on the job for Richards, a transportation representative responsible for driving carts back and forth on the skybridge between Mays Clinic and the Main Building.

Ten transportation representatives help our patients, caregivers, visitors, volunteers and employees get where they need to go. But they also often strike up conversations and friendships along the way.

"It's amazing that in a short two-minute window, people can connect in such a sincere way," says Karen Mooney, executive director in Facilities Management. "If we had different people driving the carts, it wouldn't work. It starts with that team."

Helping patients take their minds off cancer

"Every person who gets on the cart expects a ride from point A to point B in a timely manner," Richards says. But that's not enough for Richards and his fellow cart drivers.
Their goal: to help people get their minds off why they're actually here. And each driver has different approaches for making this happen.

During the holidays, Richards dons a red suit and plays Santa Claus.

For Roel Mahilum, cracking jokes does the trick. When he tells people about how he used to drive 18-wheeler trucks and now he's driving a golf cart, it usually garners a few laughs, he says.

Barrion Scott is known for talking about sports.

"College football season is fun," he says. "You can always talk stats or smack about someone's team."

Vanessa Sanders is known for saying, "Have a blessed day" as people exit the cart. It echoes how she feels about her job. "I'm blessed to work here," she says.

'Anything to uplift our patients'
The drivers often have a front seat on patients' cancer journeys, says Dan Goolsby, a manager in Facilities Management. They see many people each day: those who just received a cancer diagnosis or lost loved ones, some who are in the middle of treatment, and some who might be in remission and are here for annual checkups.

Wherever they are on their cancer journeys, patients more than likely will pass through the skybridge and interact with the drivers, he adds.

Over the course of a long admission to the Children's Cancer Hospital, a young cancer patient got to know the drivers well, especially Fairy Shelvin and Richards. The drivers would take him on rides up and down the skybridge.

"Free from his hospital room and IV pole, he had the chance to be a normal kid for a while," says Chelsea Batchelder, social work counselor at the Children's Cancer Hospital. "To him, it felt like a theme park ride."

When it came time for the young patient to return home, his parents asked Shelvin and Richards to participate as they celebrated their son's bell ringing ceremony signaling the end of his treatment.

For Shelvin, it's all about the patients, like this young boy.

"They keep me coming to work each day," she says. "Anything we can do to uplift our patients, we'll do that. We all come together as a team on the skybridge."

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly publication for employees.

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