Volunteering in hospice is a vital asset to the communities hospices serve in many ways. Although the word hospice does not typically enter everyday conversation, when it does it means a family is in critical need of the special care that hospice offers. Staff, nurses, doctors, therapists, and counselors who work in a hospice care center make it their life’s work to help families in need. Those of us who have witnessed hospice workers in action know how demanding of a role it is that they play. It is why many people feel compelled to volunteer their time as a means to give back to their community. Volunteering in hospice is no easy task, but the rewards and benefits to the community can be tremendous. Yet volunteering may sometimes present with challenges, such as unexpected barriers to entry.
With this in mind, we at 1-800-HOSPICE have reached out to a few providers in our network to discuss the challenges that exist in volunteering in hospice, and to explore how prospective volunteers may best approach applying for a volunteer position to avoid running into a roadblock.
What Can a Hospice Volunteer do for Families?
Hospice volunteers can provide a wide variety of support for patients and their families. There are all kinds of people who have something to offer, even if it’s just showing up to help.
“Volunteering in hospice benefits patients and families in a variety of ways. Volunteers provide companionship by talking with patients and reading to them. They may also play board games, watch TV programs, and listen to music with patients,” explains Diana Puckett, Family Services Coordinator for Caris Healthcare. “They may call patients to provide a friendly chat or mail them cards and letters. Hospice volunteers play a vital role in improving the quality of life for patients and families. Their companionship often provides much needed and welcome social stimulation and emotional support.”
What can Volunteers do for Hospice?
Volunteers are a wonderful resource to boost the spirits of patients, and they may also help caregivers with certain tasks to allow them to devote more time to caring for patients.
Paula Hartz of Washington Regional Hospice explains:
“Our volunteer program enhances the quality of care available to patients and their families by bringing a special level of care that supplements and builds on what staff provides. There are many ways that volunteers can benefit patients and their families and/or caregivers such as:
Companionship: Listen to and talk with patients, read to patients, write letters, play cards, games or puzzles, look at photographs or just sit quietly.
Practical Supports: Run errands, pick up groceries, light housekeeping, or prepare a meal. Volunteers can also assist with pets, yard work, garden, minor repairs, or assist with laundry. If a volunteer is unable to travel to patient’s home, a phone call, letter or card sent to the patient or caregiver is great option.
Personal Care: Assist patients with grooming, cutting/brushing hair, applying makeup or lotion, painting fingernails and dressing.
Emotional Support: Listen to patient or caregivers while supporting feelings. Help patient with relaxation through the use of music, reading or Comfort Touch.
Spiritual Support: Listen to spiritual concerns of patients, read to patients or pray with patients.
Facilitation: facilitate the flow of information between the patient, caregiver and members of the Hospice Team.”
Common Hurdles That Prevent People from Volunteering in Hospice
While many people would love the opportunity to volunteer, there are some obstacles that sometimes prevent them from doing so.
“Medicare requires that we utilize an electronic cornerstone program for ongoing trainings. Volunteers have a series of trainings to be completed during the orientation process and monthly trainings. Medicare also requires TB testing and drug testing for patient care volunteers, as well as background checks,” says Diana Puckett of Caris Healthcare.
“Some people may be intimidated by volunteering for hospice. Working with patients who have a terminal illness may seem very scary if the potential volunteer has never been exposed to a hospice setting.”
Solutions to the Obstacles
Hospices understand the obstacles standing in the way of volunteering in hospice, and they want to help alleviate some of the concerns that potential volunteers may have. That’s why most hospices are working hard to help prospective volunteers in hospice overcome these obstacles:
“We strive for more Awareness through Community outreach and involvement, which allows us not only to help people in the community understand Hospice and end of life care, but also gives us an opportunity to inform others of the satisfaction, greater self-knowledge and spiritual growth that is gained by being a hospice volunteer,” says Paula Hartz of Washington Regional Hospice. “Volunteers tend to become committed to the hospice philosophy by assisting and meeting the needs of patients and families faced with a life-limiting illness. With each new volunteer activity comes training and the gaining of new skills. Many high school and college students use their volunteer experience as a way of networking, improving socialization skills, preparing for the future and for expanding their learning beyond the classroom.”
Requirements to Volunteer
Requirements for volunteering in hospice can vary from one hospice to another. However, most centers will have similar standards. When hospices welcome those who are looking to help, they are accountable to their community and government regulations. Because volunteers are representing the hospice, they must meet a minimum set of requirements.
Diana Puckett of Caris Healthcare explains what her organization requires of volunteers in hospice:
“Anyone can be a special project volunteer, we simply need their name, address and phone number.
Administrative volunteers must be 16 years or older. They must pass a background check and provide documentation for proper identification.
Patient care volunteers must be 16 years or older. They must have a valid driver’s license and proof of automobile insurance, and they must also pass a background and MV check. Patient volunteers must also take a 2 step TB test and a drug test. This testing and background checking are provided by the company.
Pet Volunteers have strict requirements. The pet must be medically fit, have appropriate immunizations, and be certified as a therapy pet and have proper liability insurance.”
Paula Hartz of Washington Regional Hospice explains their requirements for volunteers in hospice:
“Potential volunteers must attend volunteer training followed by an interview. Before actual volunteer work can begin the volunteer must have a TB skin test, background check & drug screening (urinalysis). These tests are all given free of charge.”
We’re Here to Help YOU Volunteer
If you know someone who has benefitted from the services that hospice provides, you know how dedicated hospices are to improving the quality of life for people with life-limiting illness. The truth is that hospice caregivers shoulder a great responsibility, and it is one that they do with passion and caring. Many surviving family members who were recipients of care return to hospice centers as an outlet and a way for them to give back. As discussed above, many do so for many other reasons involving personal enrichment. Once new volunteers pass the initial requirements, they learn how rewarding and enriching volunteering in hospice can be. If you have questions on how you might participate, call 1-800-HOSPICE to find a hospice provider near you, and 1-800-HOMECARE to find a home care provider near you.