One of the many factors that makes hospice unique in the world of healthcare is its volunteers. There are student volunteers and hospital volunteers, AARP volunteers and Red Cross volunteers. But when it comes to hospice, volunteers are so important that their role is written into law!
The Medicare law that defines hospice care in America, enacted in 1982, requires that volunteer hours equal at least five percent of the hospice provider’s total patient care hours. The thinking was that, along with maximizing healthcare resources, volunteers would keep hospice providers community-oriented and patient-and-family focused.
Today, hospice volunteers devote more than 21 million hours annually to patients and their families nationwide. The past 31 years have proven that the best hospice care is provided by a unique combination of trained professionals and a caring community.
Hospice Volunteer Training
Before beginning volunteer service, hospice volunteers are often provided with the training. This training prepares volunteers for the administrative services they may perform for the hospice or the ways in which they will be directly assisting patients, caregivers, and families. Though each hospice organization may have a unique training program, most hospice volunteer training includes:
- Understanding the hospice philosophy of care
- How to know boundaries as a volunteer when interacting with patients and families
- An overview of the patient’s family during the end-of-life journey
- Understanding the services offered by the hospice organization
- How to communicate with patients, their families, and friends
- How to assist patients and families with loss, and bereavement
- Understanding patient and health information privacy
The Common Traits of Effective Hospice Volunteers
A part of what makes hospice volunteers so valuable, and such impactful members of a patient’s care team, is the unique life perspective and personality they offer. Though each volunteer is unique, there are several common traits that are indicative of an effective hospice volunteer:
- A spirit of compassion and understanding towards those who are on the end-of-life journey
- Respect for all ways of life and religious views
- Keen understanding of personal limits
- The ability to listen and be comfortable in
Effective hospice volunteers recognize that their role is one of compassionate service. The presence and service of hospice volunteers are targeted towards ultimately providing patients, caregivers, and families with the most comfortable and compassionate end-of-life experience possible.
Hospice volunteers are as diverse as the patients they serve, covering all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles. Some volunteers are retired; others are working professionals or students. They use their time and talents in a variety of ways: visiting patients to read or offer respite for a family caregiver; running errands; cutting and styling patients’ hair or offering a massage; playing a patient’s favorite tune; bringing their pet for a loving, furry visit; doing some household repair; helping in the hospice office.
Volunteers bring heartfelt energy, love, dedication, and compassion that enhance the professional skills of the rest of the patient care team. Hospice is a richer and more profound experience because of the contributions of its volunteers.