Local hospice provider says more volunteer help needed

Posted 11/28/19

When a patient nearing the end of life is admitted to hospice, they’re offered many different services: skilled nursing, a nurses aide, a chaplain, a social worker.

“And,” said Amber …

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Local hospice provider says more volunteer help needed

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When a patient nearing the end of life is admitted to hospice, they’re offered many different services: skilled nursing, a nurses aide, a chaplain, a social worker.

“And,” said Amber Alexander, who is coordinator of volunteer services for Liberty Hospice Services, “there’s a volunteer.”

And those volunteers, she said, “do so many different things.”

From answering the phone to simple home repairs, the list of duties a volunteer hospice worker can fulfill is long.

“They can offer respite for the patient caregiver, because there are so many hours without a break,” said Alexander. “They can read, write letters, wash dishes, do yard work.”

Alexander said one hospice patient she worked with wanted “someone to drink wine and smoke cigarettes with her.” A volunteer fulfilled the role.

Another wanted someone with whom to watch episodes of old television Westerns “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Another volunteer stepped up.

“Even if the patient is non-responsive,” Alexander said, “a volunteer can come in and just provide a positive presence.”

Ashley Brewer, RN, a homecare/hospice liaison with Liberty, said she frequently encounters common misconceptions about hospice.

“I always start my conversations with a family by asking ‘When you hear the word “hospice” what do you think?’ I would say 99 percent say “death.” That’s what they think. But hospice has changed a lot through the years.”

“It’s not about the dying,” said Alexander, “Hospice is really about — and a lot of people don’t realize this — it’s about making moments matter. It’s helping them live until the end, to live fully until the end. And making the end be just as good as the beginning. Making the end wonderful. And making it not scary. The word hospice actually means hospitality.”

“The way Medicare says to qualify for hospice,” Brewer said, “is to be diagnosed with something that could potentially take your life within six months. It is scary. The word is scary. But some stay on hospice a year or two.”

“It really is about living,” said Alexander.

“I think the biggest thing,” Brewer said, “is people think hospice is the end when, in fact, it’s been proven that people live longer once they have hospice in place than without it.”

So the role of a volunteer in the life of a hospice patient is an important one.

Throughout the United States, hospices enlist the aid of approximately 400,000 volunteers.

And currently, there aren’t enough volunteers to meet local hospice needs, Alexander said.

Eight Chatham County residents currently are volunteering their time and talents with Liberty’s hospice program, but there is room — and need — for more.

“I need 20,” Alexander said.

Recruiting them, she said, is challenging.

“It’s not an easy sell,” Alexander said. “I can recruit all day long, but I have to retain. And the way for me to retain is to train properly and to place properly. So my goal as volunteer coordinator is to make the process as easy as possible.”

Hospice volunteers must, first, have the interest. Next, they complete a 12-hour training program. They screened for drugs and undergo a criminal background check.

“So it is a process,” she said.

She conducts monthly training sessions at Liberty’s local office or will come to the volunteer. Training is offered for groups or for an individual.

Once those initial steps have been completed, a volunteer can get to work. And how much they take on varies.

“People don’t have to make a giant commitment,” Alexander said. “They can do as little as two 30-minute visits a month.”

Some volunteers perform their volunteer service in the morning before work, or after work in the evenings, or on weekends.

“We’re going to make it work around their schedule,” Alexander said.

Liberty is also launching a new bereavement volunteer service.

As the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia, a bestselling author, once wrote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Buscaglia’s quote, printed on the inside of Liberty’s hospice volunteer services brochure, could also speak to the value of volunteering to the volunteer and not just the patient.

“My volunteers say it’s improved their own situations, their own lives,” said Alexander. “When they go and they visit and they listen to these life stories, it touches them and changes them.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with Liberty Hospice Services, contact Amber Alexander at 910-527-0715, or contact Ashley Brewer, RN HL at 919-704-6856 for questions about homecare and hospice services.

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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