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Hospital greeter eases the way for patients with kindness and a bit of blarney

July 09, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

Eighteen-month-old Jenny-Lynn Larson was being carried into Huntington Memorial Hospital by her mother when they were approached by a middle-aged, red-haired Irishman.

"You don't have to take those adorable pills anymore," Archie Mulligan said, "because you are adorable."

He was rewarded with a big grin from Jenny-Lynn, who was about to enter the Pasadena hospital for laboratory tests.

Getting such a reaction is a part of Mulligan's unusual job as Huntington Memorial's official greeter. Mulligan stands outside the hospital to offer help or a friendly word as patients and visitors arrive and leave.

When the aspiring actor took the job five years ago, he had already displayed his qualifications by charming visitors out of parking illegally in a hospital lot.

Mulligan then was working for a valet parking service hired by the hospital. Sallie Gilmore, manager of the admitting department, saw that Mulligan had a talent for cheerfully telling visitors where to park and hired him.

"He is a whiz at making people feel happy. Archie remembers people and makes them feel welcome," Gilmore said.

Noting that it is unusual for a hospital to have an official greeter, she said "the position wouldn't have been created if he had not been there."

Mulligan, 54, is curbside weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

"Well, there's my little friend's mother," he said to a young woman leaving the hospital. "How is she doing?"

"She's making progress, Archie," said the mother, whose premature baby was in the neonatal care unit.

Audrey Kauffman of El Toro was so impressed that she wrote the hospital to say she had "received compassion and hope from Mr. Mulligan. He was always extremely kind to me, assuring me that everything would be all right.

"I just wanted you to know that having Mr. Mulligan around is indeed a comfort to patients and their families," continued Kauffman, a former Pasadena resident who has been a patient at Huntington Memorial several times for treatment of asthma. "To some people, this may seem like sort of a meaningless job, but they are very wrong. More hospitals should take note."

In an interview, Kauffman said she appreciated the encouragement she got from Mulligan.

"Some doctors (in contrast) are really abrupt," she said. "And I've watched him in action when I was being discharged and waiting for my ride. This is the type of job not many people could handle because they don't have the personality."

As much as Mulligan enjoys his job, his goal is still be an actor. "You don't stop pursuing (an acting career) until they drive the last nail in the coffin, so I haven't given it up."

He grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Cambridge, Mass. His father was a journalist and his mother a member of the Ziegfeld Follies chorus line. While trying to find work as an actor in New York, he took a variety of jobs, including a stint as a maitre d' in a restaurant. He came to California in 1980 in hopes of breaking into television.

At the hospital he wears a pinstriped gray suit that he says is color-coordinated with the hospital lobby. But the drabness of his suit is offset by his bright red hair and his effort to make each person's first impression of the hospital a favorable one.

"The beauty of it is that all you have to do is be you," he said. "I can't hit a home run every time, but I am up there trying. I am very successful with little girls and little old ladies."

Although Mulligan says all he has to do is act naturally, he does have a few tactics, such as using the patient's name as often as possible.

While the happiest part of the hospital is generally the maternity department, the baby's brothers and sisters are often feeling neglected.

"First I congratulate the parents and then talk to the baby," he said. "And then I key on the other children. I tell them the baby is lucky to have a brother or sister like them."

Mulligan stays alert to the comfort and safety of patients.

"I've learned to use a wheelchair so if the chair is going to move, I know it," he said. "And when a patient leaves with a vase of flowers, I pour the water out so it doesn't spill in the car."

When patients arrive by car, Mulligan makes sure he knows how they are going to get out before he reaches to help.

Once he was taken by surprise.

"A woman with a four-pronged cane left the car, and much to my surprise she came out cane first. You guessed it--she got me right in the groin," he said.

Although Mulligan often serves as a sounding board for complaining patients, he also knows when not to talk.

"I lay off the conversation if a person is in pain and just wants to be left alone," he said. When he greets people who don't respond, he doesn't push it.

Mulligan says he never gets tired of the job.

"I even enjoy the ill-mannered type," he said.

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