Be a Hospice Volunteer: Make a Difference
Many people imagine themselves becoming hospice volunteers, making a difference for people at the end of their life journey. Too many never make the phone call that could change the lives because they’re not sure what will be expected of them, and they are not sure if they have what it takes.
Volunteers fill the gap between loved ones and professional caregivers. Volunteers will be there even when friends and family find it hard to do so. Volunteers don’t have the emotional attachment family does. They are trained to meet the needs of patients and families. They visit on a schedule based on what the patients and/or families needs are, yet are open to change as dictated by the patient’s health and interests. They are unpaid, yet priceless.
What does it take to be a hospice volunteer?
Hospice volunteers need to know that hospice work takes its toll. You become friends with people who are going to die, and with the people who love them. You must be able to sit quietly, take a back to the events taking place around you, be a calming presence when that is called for. You need to be a guest, an observer, a facilitator.
As a hospice volunteer you need to:
- Commit the time to volunteer orientation
- Be dependable and patient
- Be a listener, and comfortable in silence
- Know your strengths, your limits and when to say no
- Be non-judgmental
- Accept that needs can be physical, emotional and/or spiritual
- Respect all beliefs, all religious customs and all who lack them
How will I know what to do?
Every volunteer receives free and comprehensive training before being assigned a volunteer job. They learn hospice philosophy, caring for the terminally ill, grief and loss education, health and safety precautions and more. They talk about what kinds of volunteering they are interested in and what talents their volunteer manager sees in them. Volunteers work with a clinical team of a doctor, nurse, aide, chaplain and social worker. Because they spend time with the patient, volunteers who provide direct patient care can often give the team valuable feedback about issues that arise during their visits.
Why do hospices have volunteers?
When hospice care became a Medicare benefit in 1982, written into the law signed by President Ronald Reagan was the requirement that community volunteers had to provide a minimum of 5 percent of total patient care hours. It is one of the things that makes hospice care unique in healthcare. The thinking was that volunteers would provide a kind of caring and a point of view that neither the professional healthcare providers on the team nor the family, who is also part of the hospice team, would offer. Today every Medicare-certified hospice—public or private, secular or faith-based, for-profit or non-profit—trains community volunteers to provide 5 percent of patient care hours.
Types of Volunteers:
11th Hour Volunteers
Help ensure that no patient dies alone by being present at the final stages of a patient’s life.
Provide support in the office: filing, preparing mailings, computer input, answering the phone, special projects.
Provide art and massage therapy.
Visits, phone calls, support groups, memorial services and send bereavement mailings.
Direct Patient Care
Visit patients and families at home, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, inpatient hospice units. Pay a friendly visit; relieve a family caregiver for an afternoon out; accompany a patient to the beauty salon, grocery store or a social event; read aloud; listen to memories; walk the dog; be the high point of someone’s day.
Volunteers with a current cosmetology license provide haircuts, shampoos and styling to patients and families.
Volunteers with current massage therapy license provide friendly touch and massage to patients and their families.
Create one-of-a-kind Memory Bears from patients’ clothes to comfort the family.
Singing or playing a musical instrument for patients or during hospice sponsored events.
Taking professional pictures of the patient and family, generally providing a picture CD to the family.
Address spiritual issues at the end of life: meaning, faith, life review, issues related to loss, loneliness, etc.
Meet education requirement for on-the-job experience while providing care to patients and families. Examples: social work, counseling, chaplaincy, nursing, nursing assistants, physician assistants, business schools, massage therapy, community job programs.
Telephone Assurance Program
Make supportive phone calls to patients and their families or to bereaved family members following a death.
Address special end-of-life needs by replacing lost medals, linking veterans to VA benefits, performing life review, visiting on Veteran’s Day, educating veterans organizations, etc.
For more information on how to become a volunteer, contact Susie Smart at 870-698-0505.