by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare
For Cortland County resident Conni Bentley, volunteering for Hospicare is fulfilling because she’s making a real difference in someone’s life. “The happiness and satisfaction that comes from providing comfort to others is enlightening and rewarding. The more volunteer work I do, the greater my overall happiness,” she said.
Volunteers like Conni who provide five percent of patient care are part of Hospicare’s interdisciplinary team of providers offering support to patients at the end of their lives. Volunteers work in collaboration with Hospicare’s registered nurses, social workers, spiritual care leaders, home health aides, administrative staff, and medical director. What volunteering for Hospicare gives individuals is an opportunity to offer many needed services to the organization and/or the patients and their families.
Hospicare volunteers include administrative support volunteers who work in the office or remotely to assist staff in all areas; community support volunteers who help with peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives or support events; and direct patient support volunteers who assist patients and families in a variety of ways. Currently, Hospicare is most in need of patient support volunteers, especially in Cortland County.
Patient Support Volunteers
Patient support volunteers provide emotional support and companionship to hospice patients and their families. These volunteers visit patients in a variety of locations such as a private home, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. They spend time sitting quietly or talking with patients; playing games or watching a movie with them; helping them with small household tasks, running errands, or picking up groceries. Sometimes a volunteer will help with a personal project, such as organizing photographs or recording stories. At other times they may bring an instrument and play music. In all cases, the activities are driven by the patient and what he or she believes will be of most value. Visits might be a quick drop in or may last several hours. It’s important to know that volunteers do not provide any medical or hands-on care. Other services volunteers may provide include:
- Tuck In: a weekly phone call to help identify weekend needs and/or a friendly phone call during the week to chat
- Pampering: setting or brushing hair, rubbing lotion into a patient’s hands or feet, or painting fingernails
- Massage: licensed massage therapists offer relaxing massage to patients
- Reiki Masters: certified reiki masters offer healing energy work to patients
- Threshold Choir: trained singers (in small groups or solo) offer comforting music to patients and their families
- Vigil: offering compassionate presence with a loved one in the last few days
- Grief Support: families receive supportive phone calls and mailings
- Landscape volunteers: help take care of the grounds including weeding and filling the bird feeders
Conni has served as a tuck-in volunteer, which she says involves “friendly contact with patients by telephone to ensure they have enough meds and supplies for the weekend. Calls are made on Thursday so the patient’s nurse can schedule a visit if needed on Friday to check on the patient or to deliver supplies. Even though the contact is made by telephone, wonderful and close relationships develop with the patient, family member, and/or caregiver,” said Conni.
Having a volunteer as part of the care team is meaningful for patients and families because they offer an extra personal touch of support. “Volunteers are an essential part of the team, offering a compassionate presence at a vulnerable time,” said Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services. “Showing up and meeting patients and families where they are is a win/win for all involved.”
Becoming a Volunteer
How do people become Hospicare volunteers? Many who consider volunteering are already knowledgeable about hospice services because they had a family member or friend who received care. Others may know of the organization because they work in the healthcare field. However, many people are brand new to the concept of hospice. All volunteers have a desire to assist patients as they near the end of their lives with a unique level of solace, camaraderie, and support. To be successful, one needs to be compassionate, empathetic, and a good listener.
Interested in learning more about volunteering? All Hospicare volunteers are required to go through a specialized training, which is held at various times throughout the year. For more information, contact Wendy Yettru at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-272-0212.