Since the very beginning of Hospice of the Chesapeake, an organization founded by volunteers, the importance of touch when providing comfort and care is always emphasized. Holding hands, offering hugs, providing massage and other hands-on therapies, and long talks next to a bedside are all common and encouraged practices.
Then, one day in March, very suddenly, our volunteers were told they could no longer visit in person with patients and families or serve alongside our care teams in the inpatient care centers or partner facilities. Not only for the safety of the patients, but also for our care teams and the volunteers themselves.
Our leadership scrambled to find a way to put an eager corps of generous souls to work in a way that can help our patients and families while keeping everyone safe. That is how our Caring Callers team evolved.
Cari Mackes, who has been volunteering for our organization since 2010, said that like her, many of the Caring Callers started out on the Tuck In Team prior to COVID 19. “As Tuck In callers, we met every Thursday morning with the goal of reaching all our patients and families to make sure they had enough medicine and supplies to get through the weekend,” Mackes said. “Now, as Caring Callers, our goal is to let the patients and caregivers know that we are thinking of them and this is one way we can keep in touch when we can’t visit in the home.”
Joan Blum, who has worn many different hats in her 27-plus years of volunteering with our organization, put on a new hat when the Tuck-In Calls could no longer take place at Mandrin due to the pandemic and became a Caring Caller. She said she appreciates being able to call the same list of families each week. “They anticipate our calls and with several we are on first-name basis. I look forward to being able to go back to the regular home visits but will miss many of my regular calls.”
Mackes also serves as a Patient Care Volunteer since 2010 and a Vigil Volunteer since 2011, said that her client has changed. “As a Patient Care Volunteer, my patient was my client and the family was secondary. As a caring caller, our of about 35 calls, maybe two are with patients, the rest are with the caregiver, it’s the caregiver who’s stressed out, the caregiver who is upset, my client has changed,” she said. “They burst out crying – these are the people who you stay on the phone with.”
During these times, these loved ones and those at end of life are more isolated than ever. A call makes a difference.
Cheryl Michi, the volunteer coordinator who manages the Caring Callers, is proud of the volunteers who have found a way to make calls from their own homes to help patients and their family caregiver. Since they started the Caring Caller program, they have made more than 5,000 calls to patients and their families. From these calls, another type of volunteer was created: Companionship Callers, who are assigned when a patient or caregiver tells a Caring Caller they would appreciate having one volunteer assigned to make regular calls. As of the end of September, around 90 patients have signed up for Companionship Calls.
Gloria Kinsley is one such volunteer. As a Patient Care Volunteer since 2007, she misses being able to visit in person, but she said this new role is rewarding. “It is very different. It took me a couple of times to get used to just calling and chit chatting,” she said. The woman she talks with once or twice a week is a caregiver who has been taking care of her husband since 2014. “These people can’t go anywhere. She is alone. Those people really need support.”
Teri Jacobson, a Patient Care, Comfort Touch and Aromatherapy Volunteer, heard about Companionship Calls while in a Zoom Volunteer meeting and knew immediately she would get involved. “It’s a great way to stay involved and offer an ear to those patients and families needing to be heard. During these times, these loved ones and those at end of life are more isolated than ever. A call makes a difference. It is a connection and a way to say, ‘we see you’.”
To volunteer as a Caring or Companionship Caller, contact our Volunteer Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-987-2003.