‘It’s important to be there for them’
Western Maryland Health System Hospice Volunteers find blessings in providing comfort
CUMBERLAND, MD, February 4, 2019 – In a difficult period when every moment is precious, Western Maryland Heath System [UPMC Western Maryland] Hospice Services provides the comfort and care that family members cherish. A key part of the Hospice team is the dozen-plus volunteers who give their own time to bring a sense of normalcy to both patients and their families.
“There’s nothing like that feeling,” said Patti Snyder, who serves as a direct patient care volunteer. “It holds great rewards. These people are frightened. They are losing a key part of their life. It’s important to be there for them.”
Being there for them involves both volunteers and paid staff coming together, and more volunteers are needed all the time. “It’s required that volunteers have to provide at least five percent of paid staff hours,” said Renee Gibson, Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator with WMHS [UPMC Western Maryland] Hospice Services.
A variety of positions are available. Patient greeter volunteers spend about 10-15 minutes with a patient and their family and give them a handmade blanket and pillow, which are made by other volunteers. Administrative volunteers work on duties in the office and handle the 13-month follow up bereavement mailings. Bereavement volunteers provide a listening ear, bereavement resources and support as the family journeys through their grief.
Those that work closest to the patients themselves are the direct patient care volunteers. “These volunteers go into the homes to spend time there while family members run errands, go to doctor appointments or even just go out to lunch,” Renee said. “Whatever they can offer, we’ll take. They can spend up to four hours a week with a family and can volunteer as much or as little as they want.”
The choice to be a direct patient care volunteer was an easy one for Patti. “When I moved here in the 1990s, I was a Hospice nurse at Memorial Hospital,” she said. She now has been volunteering for three years.
“Whenever they call me I try and make myself available. I love going into the patients’ homes. I’ve always had a passion for Hospice. I found my niche there as a nurse. I’m also a Christian. It seems that when I go and meet the families I get a sense of what they need even though I’ve never met them before.”
Her background and expertise in nursing comes in handy, and the reward for her is great. “Anybody who works in Hospice is remembered,” she said. “It is one of the few times in life that this happens. Usually there needs to be a strong friendship or a connection, but even though I may never see them again after the care ends they will always remember me.”
Carolee Loar also serves as a direct patient care volunteer. Although she was a little apprehensive at first, she knew it was the right fit almost immediately. “I didn’t know I could do this,” she said. “I always wanted to volunteer. After I had been retired for a while, I was trying to find the right fit. At some point someone handed me something that said they needed Hospice volunteers. It was just the right thing for me.”
Carolee said that even though many of the patients she sees are beyond communicating very well, communicating with their family is just as important. “You are a little uneasy the first time you knock on a door,” she said, “but once you are inside and you start talking to these people, you realize they are just families with someone who is hurting, and they need some help. It’s much more rewarding than a paycheck.”
Retirees like Carolee and Patti are just a pair of the 14 volunteers currently on staff. In a perfect world, Renee said she would love to have 20, so there could be one for every patient that Hospice is serving right now. “One of the luxuries about being retired and volunteering is that you can pick and choose when you want to do it,” she said.
While assisting the families and patients with their final journey is a big part of the reason why most chose to volunteer, Renee said the personal joy that volunteers get out of it is also key. “I hear a lot of the volunteers say they do it for themselves. They enjoy it and get satisfaction and blessings from the patients and the families,” she said.
Training is provided and mentor and shadowing visits can be arranged to make sure the experience is a good one for the volunteers. “Even if they aren’t sure about going into the homes, they can be a patient greeter or work in the office,” Renee said.
Patti summed up her feelings by encouraging those even remotely interested to reach out. “I would tell folks who are interested that if they do this they will be blessed beyond measure. What you give to these patients comes back to you 100-fold.”
Renee can be reached at 240-964-9005 for those interested in becoming a Hospice volunteer. “There is no experience needed,” she said, “only a desire to make a difference in the lives of the individuals they may encounter.”