The Valuable Roles of Volunteers in Hospice Care
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Published on July 15, 2019

patient and volunteer spend time together

The Valuable Roles of Volunteers in Hospice Care

Hospice is a special style of health care, and for this service to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families, it takes a dedicated group of people.

“As the knowledge of hospice care grows and more people realize how important it is, the need for volunteers also grows,” said Carla Hummel, Director of Volunteer Services at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. “Some volunteers offer specific services, such as our veteran volunteers. Others offer companionship and give respites to caregivers.”

Training and Matching

Avera@Home is the service agency that operates hospice care across the Avera region, and the organization is always seeking more people who are willing to volunteer. The on-boarding process for volunteers requires some time for paperwork and training, but the preparation is valuable.

“Patient safety is our priority, so we do have a careful review and training process for each person who joins our team,” said Hummel. “There’s also paperwork to complete, documentation of immunizations, background checks and online training. Once volunteer candidates complete those required steps, we can then focus on providing volunteer services for the hospice patients and their families.”

Hospice volunteers serve the patient, naturally, but the family is another important part of the collaboration between the care team as a whole. The role of volunteers is so significant that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes their contributions and regulates the hours they provide.

Roles may vary, but in short, volunteers are companions.

“We have volunteers with standing appointments each week, coordinated so the family member can attend their own appointment, like a Bible study or other event,” Hummel said. “Some volunteers may just help take a patient to Mass or church services if located at a long-term care facility or hospice house.”

Who Fits the Role Best

Being a hospice volunteer is not for everyone – and that’s OK.

“We try to partner patients and volunteers according to need and right now we have a higher need for male volunteers. But everyone who is willing to take the steps and complete the training is welcome,” she said. “Volunteers will take notes on their visit and that becomes part of the patient record. There are also strong emotional bonds that form, and that experience can be challenging. We, as caregivers, must set our feelings aside and be there for the family and patient.”

Most people who complete the training and screening remain volunteers for many years. Some may take seasonal breaks – Hummel said some of her volunteer team are “snow birds” who spend time out of state each year – but for those few hours each week when they are on site, they are making a big impact.

“We have some volunteers in their 20s, and we have many in a wide range of ages. Most have a little experience in health care, but that is not required,” said Hummel. “To provide good hospice care you need a good team, and volunteers are a critical part of it. It’s an honorable role to play – to be a part of someone’s journey to the end of life. For those who wish to experience it, we welcome them to join our efforts.”

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