Hospice was created to bring hope and consolation to people at the end of their lives. But before it was adopted as a formal medical service, it was run by volunteers offering emotional, social, and spiritual comfort to patients in desperate need. Over 50 years later, hospice volunteers still play a vital role in end-of-life care. Though their actions seem small, they have an enormous impact – bringing joy and solace to people during one of the most affecting moments of their lives.
What do Hospice Volunteers Do?
Hospice volunteers are indispensable to the functioning of the organization and the quality of care it provides. They work directly with patients, but also behind the scenes to keep the organization running smoothly as possible.
Hospice volunteers might find the idea of working with patients intimidating at first, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience. After spending time with people in hospice, volunteers find their hearts and minds opening in unexpected ways. The warmth, excitement, and gratitude they see during their visits gives them a deeper appreciation of how kindness can transform a person’s life.
Patient visits can take any form. Some volunteers come and perform music. Others play games, work on puzzles, or do arts and crafts. Some read to patients or bring their pets, while others just come and talk.
Regardless of what you do, showing up and spending time is what really matters. Even though families visit as often as they can, hospice can still be lonely. Because of their illness, their world tends to shrink until it revolves mostly around nurses, doctors, and medical procedures. Volunteers are a chance for them to re-connect with their community, make new friends, and stay social.
Other Ways to Help
Besides working with patients, hospice volunteers assist families and staff as well. No matter your background, there is always a valuable role you can play.
- Supporting Families. Hospice is stressful for everyone. Volunteers help ease the burden by lending a hand with common tasks, such as shopping, cooking, or housekeeping. This gives family members more time to spend with their loved one or attend to personal errands they have been neglecting.
- Bereavement Counseling. Volunteers who have a background in psychology or spirituality might be invited to meet with family members in order to help them through the grieving process. Lay persons can help by sending out mailers or assisting the hospice chaplain with his casework.
- Administrative & Clerical Work. Hospice is a complicated process, so often staff asks volunteers to help them file paperwork in the office. Clerical work keeps the business operating efficiently, so it can fulfill its mission in the field.
Volunteers work at every level of hospice care. Their selfless dedication makes it possible for us to continue providing comfort to patients and families during this difficult period.
How to Become a Hospice Volunteer
Parentis Health Hospice accepts volunteers who are eighteen and older. Apply by contacting our volunteer coordinator at 949.339.7167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you have completed your application, you will meet with her to discuss your background and interests, in order to see if you are a good fit for the program. If you are accepted, you will begin by undergoing some basic medical training, including HIPAA regulation and standard clinical safety procedures. Then you and the coordinator will talk about where you would like to work. We want every volunteer to be comfortable as possible, which is why the coordinator checks in and evaluates how things are going, to make sure no one is taking on an assignment that is not right for them, whether it is working with patients or behind the scenes.
What it Takes to Be a Volunteer
We are looking for people who are caring, compassionate, and approach life with an open mind. It is not easy to predict what part of the journey patients will be at when you encounter them. Some are eager to talk, others reluctant, but volunteers willing to venture outside their bubble and meet patients where they are see surprising results.
On his first day, one extremely shy volunteer was assigned to one of our more difficult patients. Our coordinator, who always accompanies volunteers on their first visit, initially had to lead the conversation. The volunteer was reluctant to talk, but after being introduced and prodded along, he eventually opened up. A little at first, then a little more and a little more, until he and the patient were chatting away like old friends. The patient even glanced over at the coordinator, annoyed she was hanging around, intruding on their time. It shows how quickly bonds can form, when volunteers are brave enough to venture into new situations.
How Hospice Volunteers Adapted to COVID-19
COVID-19 shut down most volunteer activities. Visitors were not allowed into assisted living facilities, and even people undergoing hospice at home could not receive guests for fear of infection. However, rather than diminishing the need for volunteers, this made it even greater. To keep the patients’ spirits up, we turned our hospice volunteers into pen-pals. Each week, they write letters discussing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Though the patients do not always have the energy to reply, they love reading the letter sent to them. Some residents are so eager, our coordinator has found them waiting by the door for the mail to arrive.
Why You Should Consider Volunteering
Hospice cannot function without volunteers. Regulations laid down by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services state that at least five percent of patient care must be provided by volunteers.
But beyond that, hospice volunteers play a vital role in the closing months of a person’s life. No one wants to feel forgotten. They need someone to listen honestly, to share a smile, and bring a little fun back into their life. Their families need someone to help shoulder the burden. And workers need someone to keep the office wheels churning, so they can continue providing high-quality care.
This is why so many people join the program. It is more than a chance to improve their CV, it is a chance to make a difference.
Lewis Jackson writes about technology and healthcare. His work provides practical insight into modern medicine and healthy living.