Volunteers Play Growing Role in Hospice Care

By Aisling Maki

As the population ages, hospice and the volunteers who provide comfort and support to end-of-life patients and their families play a significant role in more lives.

Baptist Trinity Hospice House opened in 2010 on the campus of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville. Baptist Trinity Hospice is seeking volunteers.

(Daily News File Photo: Bob Bayne)

“There’s a great need for care, and end-of-life issues right now are a real concern, and it takes a village to help care for someone at this stage in their life,” said Sandra Livesay, volunteer coordinator for Baptist Trinity Hospice, which will host a volunteer training session at its offices, 6141 Walnut Grove Road, Saturday, April 21, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Baptist Trinity Hospice is seeking volunteers to work with end-of-life patients in their own homes, in the five-bed hospice unit at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, and at the Baptist Trinity Hospice House, which opened in 2010 and is on the campus of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville.

“The hospice house is such a need for the community as a whole,” said Angela Hamblen, director of the neighboring Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief, which provides free bereavement counseling services for family members.

“You have people living longer, and their children are trying to take care of them and their own children. So the hospice house offers the benefit of excellent care in a place where the family member doesn’t have to be the 24-hour caregiver. A lot of families that we’ve been serving in the hospice house have needed that; they haven’t had the resources to provide for their parents outside of the hospice house.”

Saturday’s all-day training will include discussions on understanding the hospice philosophy and the hospice team concept; developing communication and listening skills; patient and caregiver rights; and spirituality, grief and family relations.

“At that time, they get a good idea of the area in which they’d like to volunteer,” Livesay said. “They meet with me and talk about their time availability and where they’d like to volunteer, and what they’d like to get out of volunteering.”

Volunteers working with patients may spend time reading or watching movies. If the patient is still active, they may take them out to eat or to participate in a favorite hobby. For patients who are confined to their beds, volunteers may record and listen to their life stories.

“Our patients really enjoy reminiscing about their lives and talking about things in their lives that have had meaning,” Livesay said. “That’s very important. And other times you don’t have to say a word but just be there and hold their hand. It’s just your presence.”

Opportunities to work with families include coordinating special events, providing office assistance, or working as greeters.

“Just giving them support from the moment they walk in helps our family members deal with this because this is a difficult time,” Livesay said. “There’s a great need for greeters at our hospice house.”

She said there’s also a great need for people with green thumbs, as the hospice house prepares for its spring planting to cultivate the cutting and herb gardens.

“And each patient has pots on their patio, which is a great opportunity for volunteers who love to garden and be outside,” Livesay said.

Most volunteers who are drawn to hospice work are people whose lives have been touched in some way by hospice.

“They’ve often had a friend or family member who’s had hospice care, and this is a way that they’d like to give back,” Livesay said. “With this type of volunteering, you feel that you really do make a difference at this time in a patient’s life. You really learn a lot from your patients about courage and strength and how to come to some peace about this and about end-of-life issues.”

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month, and Hamblen said volunteers play an indispensable role in providing dignity and support to people living the last days of their lives.

“We would not be able to do what we do without our volunteers. … Truly, their gifts are what make our hospice program complete,” she said.