Blanche Coopé never realized how vital her role as a hospital-based notary public would become until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Although the service may seem mundane, it is essential—and Coopé was able to provide it at a time when few guests could visit.
“It saves time for everybody, and it saves a lot of stress on the families,” said Coopé, who is also a nursing unit clerk in the intensive-care unit at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “I can't tell you how many times people would be in tears, because it's done in two minutes basically and gives them some relief.”
State governments certify notary publics, who witness the signing of legal documents before applying the official stamp as they oversee important transactions. Notaries in hospitals authorize a wide range of documents, such as durable powers of attorney, living wills, bank statements and absentee voting applications.
During her first year working at the hospital in 2018, Coopé noticed that it was sometimes an ordeal finding authorized people to notarize patient documents when needed. Her days working at a bank in New York had given her notary experience, so she decided to get certified in Iowa in 2019 in the hopes of helping her unit run more smoothly.
Throughout the early days of the pandemic, banks and other notary providers limited in-person services, making in-house notary publics at hospitals especially important. UI Hospitals and Clinics, Children’s Minnesota and Phoenix Children’s are just a few of the hospitals nationwide that offer in-house notary services to improve the patient experience and to assist staff.
“It's a wonderful thing to delight families when they're in the hospital because they're going through so much,” said Carolyn Reseland, a program assistant in the Family Resource Center at Children’s Minnesota who’s also a notary public.
Coopé said staff can also complete durable power of attorney forms for their own benefit, and she’ll notarize them—something many hadn’t considered doing before, she said.
Millie Donaldson, a supervisor at the Emily Center at Phoenix Children’s, said she'll meet patients and families where they are in the hospital if they can't bring her their documents. But Donaldson said it wasn’t always so easy.
Only one staff member at the Emily Center notarized administrative documents on weekdays before the service grew. On weekends, she said patients’ family members had to find other options.
When leadership learned about this issue, they made the needed changes to offer the service 24/7. Donaldson and another coworker decided to get their credentials to address the demand for notarizations, and some of the hospital’s front desk employees also double as notary publics.
Having notary services available in-house at all hours is especially crucial in emergency situations, given the time pressures in many healthcare decisions.
Reseland at Children's Minnesota also said notary services fit well into the hospital setting considering the volume of legal documents processed.
“It is quite a simple task, but it can mean so much to the family,” she said.