April is National Volunteer Month! When hospice care became a Medicare benefit in August 1982, it was written into a law signed by President Ronald Reagan. One of the requirements is that community volunteers have to provide a minimum of 5 percent to the total patient care hours. It is one of the things that makes hospice care unique in healthcare.
Volunteers are an integral part of the hospice team ranging from direct patient care to providing clerical and fundraising support for the organization. Hospice volunteers describe their work as gratifying, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally meaningful. Hospice organizations require a lot from their volunteers and value them greatly. You become friends with people who have terminal illnesses, as well as those who love them. You must be able to sit quietly, take a back seat to the events taking place around you, and be a calming presence when needed.
Hospice volunteers need to know that hospice work takes its toll. All volunteers receive training to ensure they feel comfortable with their tasks. Training programs vary in length and generally cover the following:
- Philosophy of hospice care
- A comprehensive overview of services offered by hospice
- Physical, emotional, social and spiritual issues that people can encounter at the end of life
- Individual needs, including emotional support, emergency procedures, universal precautions and procedures to follow after the hospice patient passes
- An overview of chronic and life-limiting illnesses
- Effective communication skills when speaking with the patient and family members
- Information about interpersonal family issues and relationships
- Boundaries for the hospice volunteer, the patient, and family.
- Basic information about grief and loss.
As a hospice volunteer, you will be given choices as to how much and what types of things you want to do. Some examples of typical volunteer duties are:
- Listening to a patient’s concerns
- Being a comforting and supportive presence
- Engaging in the patient’s hobbies; for example, playing a board game or discussing current events
- Telling other hospice staff the needs of the hospice patient and family
- Running errands or doing light housekeeping for patient and family
- Encouraging the patient to tell their life story
- Transporting patient to physician visits
- Providing assistance with personal care, such as bathing or transferring from chair to bed, if the volunteer has been properly trained to do so
- Providing time for the caregiver to take care of her/him self
Volunteer programs offered by Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare include:
- Sweets and Treats
- Stitches of Love
- Creative Crafts
- Massage Therapy
- Meditation and Yoga
- Pet Visitation
- Delivers of Love
Every hospice program has a policy regarding eligibility for becoming a hospice volunteer. Emotional maturity plays an important role in determining whether or not a person is ready to become a hospice volunteer, as the role of a volunteer can be an intense experience. For information on volunteer opportunities at Hospice Services at Methodist ElderCare, please call Becky Huitger at 614-451-6700 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, by helping others you can help yourself.