A hospice volunteer fills 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, 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 seat 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
- Be 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 & loss education, health & 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. It’s the law.
What is it like to volunteer?
As a hospice volunteer, you have the privilege of serving families at a tender time when they are saying, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” ” thank you,” and “good-bye.” It’s a period of closure and a time of reflection. Many patients find it helpful to talk about their lives with an objective listener. They feel free to discuss events and issues with a volunteer that it may be difficult to share with their relatives or health providers.
Hospice volunteers consistently describe the experience as one that is surprisingly rewarding. Below are comments typically heard from volunteers:
- “I’ve seen family members reunited after years of being apart. They realize that the grudge they were holding really wasn’t all that important after-all. Decades of bitterness falls away in the face of death. And they say, ‘Why did we wait so long?’ It makes you realize that you don’t have to wait until you’re dying to forgive. What a lesson!”
- “It meant so much to us to get help from hospice when my husband was sick. I decided I wanted to give back, so I became a hospice volunteer. What I didn’t know at the time was how much I would get out of it, being on the giving end. It’s one the best things I do.”
- “For me, it’s a blessing to spend time with people in their last weeks of life. As my patients lose their physical abilities, they often become more spiritual. The worries of daily life are seen for what they are, insignificant. In the end, all my patients can do is become the essence of the human soul: our capacity to love. And just think, I get to witness that every week!”
In addition to visiting with patients, your presence as a volunteer also gives family members the opportunity for a much-needed break. The kinds of activities a volunteer might do include:
- Light housekeeping (dishes, laundry, meal preparation)
- Running errands
- Letter writing
- Sharing hobbies or special interests
Please know that a volunteer will never be expected to do something they do not want to do. In addition, all volunteers receive extensive training and support, and there is a Volunteer Coordinator to help if you have questions or concerns.
We have many volunteer opportunities available:
- Family Service Volunteers – provide companionship to patients
- Office Volunteers – provide assistance to our office staff
- Bereavement Volunteers – provide emotional support to grieving families
- Event Volunteers – assist with community events
- Specialty Volunteers – provide assistance for any area where you have unique gifting. For example, cosmetology, music, cooking, gardening etc.