Hospice at HCS Volunteers Making a Difference
“It is hard to die, and as a volunteer it is a privilege to be there with someone at the end,” says hospice volunteer Laura Ylitalo from Surry. “I never thought I could do it when I started, but it is no different than sitting with a friend, and it really makes a difference in people’s lives.” Laura has been volunteering with Hospice at HCS, the local not-for-profit hospice, for three years, visiting with hospice patients who are living in nursing homes. “Making that first visit in a nursing home was a big step for me, but it was easier than I thought. Now I just call the people I visit my friends; some are not able to talk with me, but when I make eye contact with them, or touch their shoulder, I know that they sense my presence and I know I am making a difference.”
Judy Dueker of Sullivan also visits patients in nursing homes who are receiving hospice care. “After retiring and moving here, I wanted to do something that involved people,” she says. “I enjoy offering support to the families who have loved ones in the nursing homes. I feel like we become part of the extended family. Listening is key; it helps to make connections on a deeper level.” Alstead resident Joyce Campbell-Counts heard about the hospice volunteer training from friends and was looking for a volunteer opportunity after she retired; for her, it was important to know that her efforts helped someone at the end of life, and that “no one dies alone if they don’t want to.”
Laura, Judy and Joyce are three of the over 70 Hospice at HCS volunteers in the Monadnock Region. They visit hospice patients who live in nursing homes; other volunteers visit patients at home or in assisted living facilities. Still other volunteers are involved with the Pet Peace of Mind program, which helps patients keep their four legged “family member” at home with them. Hospice provides care wherever people call home, according to Lorraine Bishop, Hospice at HCS Volunteer Coordinator. “Many hospice patients look forward to having someone drop by to visit, but most especially those who are living in nursing homes. Some patients don’t have any family to come by, so volunteers visiting in nursing homes can make a real difference,” says Lorraine. Volunteers do not provide medical care, but do work as a team with the hospice nurses, social workers, and the chaplain to give the patient and family caregivers support. Volunteers can also offer much needed respite breaks for families who are caring for a family member at home. Schedules can be flexible to accommodate volunteer’s travel and vacation plans, but generally volunteers visit patients once or twice a week, according to Lorraine. Visits, particularly in nursing homes, can be short due to the frailty of the individual. “It is important that they know you care; they look forward to your visit, and smile and light up when you come through their door. All leave a mark on your heart,” says Laura of her experience visiting in nursing homes.
Hospice at HCS provides training to prepare volunteers to visit patients. The training covers topics such as communication skills, family dynamics, community resources, and grief and bereavement. Joyce took the 21 hour training three years ago. “The training helped to prepare me for visiting in nursing homes; it had a lot of depth and breadth, and the variety of presenters was excellent.” Support is also there after the training says Laura, “I can call Lorraine and she is always there to listen and provide guidance and insights that might be helpful.”
Hospice volunteer training is held in the fall and spring each year, in Keene and in Peterborough. This fall’s training will begin on September 20 and continue on Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the organization’s office at 312 Marlboro Street in Keene. There is no charge for the training, but pre-registration is necessary. Those interested can call Lorraine Bishop at 352-2253 or 532-8353.