Volunteers are vital members of the hospice clinical team

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Portrait of Monica Hastings, RN, BSN, CHPN, Clinical Manager, Hospice of the Chesapeake

Monica Hastings, RN, BSN, CHPN

There once was a hospice patient who had a difficult past. It’s reflected in how she treated her family. When she wasn’t harsh towards them, she would shut down, locking them out from her world. As she grew closer to her end, she shared that she wanted to open up to her family, especially her grandchildren. She wanted them to remember her. But she didn’t know where to begin.

There once was a volunteer assigned to this patient. The intention was to provide this lonely woman company and support. Soon they built a beautiful rapport. One day, the patient shared with the volunteer that she had so much she wanted to say to her family. It turned out the volunteer was a professional writer. Together, the two women wrote beautiful letters to her family. The letters answered nagging questions like, “Does she care? Does she even like me? Does she see me?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes.”

With the help of that volunteer, her family got to see her in a different way. It helped them resolve a lot of the grief and anguish. They got to know her a little better and know their importance to her before she died. For me, it was one of the more profound experiences that I’ve had in my hospice career.

Hospice nurses, certified nursing assistants, social workers and chaplains spend more time with their patients than other specialties. But the kind of time and commitment this professional writer gave to this patient could only have come from a volunteer.

Volunteers are a meaningful part of hospice’s holistic support and care. They help our team do a better, more complete job. They can provide information about family dynamics, patient experiences and even symptom management. We’ve learned so much about the personality of patients through reading volunteer notes. It’s often important and exciting information that didn’t come up in the conversation with the nurse or social worker.

Volunteers are a meaningful part of hospice’s holistic support and care. They help our team do a better, more complete job.

As clinicians in hospice, we talk about caring for the whole person – body, mind and spirit. We are better able to do this because of the gifts of our volunteers. Compassionate care volunteers, people who visit patients and families, enrich patients’ lives. They help make their end-of-life journey holistic and supportive.  Other volunteers offer healing arts, such as reiki and Compassionate Touch, to bring comfort and peace. There are also those who visit with pets or perform music. And there are We Honor Veteran volunteers who perform honor salutes, recognizing the quarter of our patients who are military veterans. These are all important extras in the care of our patients that enhance their quality of life.

There are other types of volunteers who work behind the scenes. Thanks to them, there are many things the clinical team needn’t worry about. They put together admission packets, keep our paper forms stocked, help maintain medical records and answer calls that come to the office.

Volunteer Russ Stewart visits with a patient who shares family photos with him. Volunteers like Russ are vital members of the clinical team, providing patients a safe space to share.

Volunteer Russ Stewart visits with a patient who shares family photos with him.

Our volunteers often prove to be fantastic ambassadors for hospice. As our volunteers must go through a thorough training process, they are well-educated about hospice services. They have a front row seat in end-of-life care, which allows them to speak with a lot of truth and power to their community. They can share honestly about the impact of hospice care as well as how others can get involved.

For someone who thinks becoming a hospice volunteer is “too sad,” remember there are always sad times in life. But this gift of true connection with others is sacred. It fills us with joy and purpose. The people I have the privilege of working with say they’re made better because of these relationships with patients and families. Our volunteers not only help the hospice team, they help bring peace and comfort to patients and families.

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