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Live with Purpose - April 26, 2023

Hospice Volunteers: The Unsung Heroes of Hospice Programs

By Amanda Ranowsky

When you think about hospice care, you likely picture the doctors and nurses who dedicate their careers to caring for people at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. What you might not think of are the volunteers whose efforts provide critical support to people in need every day.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), more than 420,000 trained hospice volunteers contribute to hospice organizations across the country. This large number is due in part to a Medicare regulation. The first Hospice programs were voluntary organizations, and to honor this history Medicare requires that hospice organizations utilize volunteers to provide five percent of all the care hours a hospice organization delivers to patients.

Volunteers can find many fulfilling ways to contribute to a hospice and its patients. Whether offering special skills and talents or simply taking time to spend with patients and their loved ones, hospice volunteers make a significant difference to many people and at a time of deep vulnerability.

For Goodwin Hospice, team members spend about 1,800 hours per month, on average, caring for patients. That means we need 90 volunteer hours per month to meet the required five percent match for Medicare.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we celebrate our hospice volunteers and the invaluable contributions they make to Goodwin Hospice.

The Role of Hospice Volunteers

Hospice volunteers provide a range of patient-facing and administrative services for hospice organizations and their patients. They spend time with hospice patients talking about or writing down favorite memories. They provide respite support to the patient’s loved ones who are caregiving by helping with shopping or light household chores, or by sitting with the patient so that their loved ones can run errands themselves. They sing to patients or provide spiritual counseling. They do clerical work to help the hospice organization with administrative duties.

At Goodwin Hospice, volunteers must be a minimum of 21 years old, and we’ve had some volunteers in their 90s! They visit patients in retirement communities, nursing centers and individual homes throughout Northern Virginia, as well as in the three Goodwin Living senior living communities. Goodwin Hospice volunteers receive thorough orientation and training before starting work and can provide services in several ways.

Office Support and Friendly Visits

Joanne Bowers, a resident of Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC), chose to volunteer with Goodwin Hospice after experiencing the benefits of hospice care during her mother’s final days. Joanne is the “go-to volunteer” for helping with administrative tasks such as bereavement mailings. She also acts as a Friendly Visitor Volunteer.

Friendly Visitor Volunteers provide non-medical support to patients and caregivers. They offer companionship for patients, short-term respite for caregivers and assist caregivers with limited shopping and errands, depending on the volunteer’s willingness and availability.

“Not only do I interact with the hospice patients assigned to me but in some instances, I also get to know their families,” said Joanne. “Sometimes a family member needs someone to sit with their loved one while they take a break, or a patient will tell me stories about their loved ones. No two visits are ever the same.”

She shared one particular visit that stood out in her memory. “One of the patients I was visiting mentioned special cookies that her mother, born in Norway, made every Christmas,” she said. “We looked up the recipes online and watched videos of someone making the cookies. It brought back lovely memories for that person.”

Hospice volunteer Caleb S. (who preferred not to share his last name)  is one of a growing number of volunteers in their 20s. He works as an electrical engineer and volunteers for Goodwin Hospice in his off hours. He acts as a Friendly Visitor Volunteer in a small assisted living community.

“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in the D.C. area,” Caleb said, “and I saw Goodwin Hospice pop up in the list. In college, I had done some volunteering at senior homes and always found it an enriching experience. Sure enough, my experience volunteering with Goodwin Hospice has been very rewarding and fun!”

A talented guitar player, Caleb recently brought his guitar along on his visits and got very enthusiastic responses. The connections he sparked through his music surprised him. “In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking I would connect well with the patients I visited,” he shared. “I am much younger and have grown up in a different time. There are a lot of communication barriers, and I didn’t expect to have much to talk about other than the weather. But I’ve found that, despite the generational gap and communication barriers, common interests have given me opportunities to connect with the patients. Shared love of music, interest in sports and curiosity about life makes conversations fun and interesting and keep me excited to visit each week!”

Specialized Supports

Volunteers with additional training offer specialized services to Goodwin Hospice patients and their caregivers. Goodwin Hospice is recruiting for Pet Companion Volunteers, who bring their own trained dogs to visit and provide companionship to patients and their loved ones and caregivers. Goodwin Hospice also seeks Reiki Volunteers who offer Reiki sessions to patients and caregivers.

Ceci Cole McInturff is a Spiritual Care Volunteer, providing a comforting presence and individualized emotional and spiritual support according to the patient’s specific needs. These volunteers are comfortable reaching outside their own faith traditions to meet the spiritual needs of the hospice patient. They provide spiritual support rather than religious advice.

Ceci is also a member of the Threshold Choir, a group that sings at the bedside of hospice patients. Families and caregivers are invited to join in song or participate by listening and songs are chosen according to the patient’s musical taste, spiritual direction and how they are feeling in the moment. Threshold Choir members can provide their services individually or as a group.

“It’s so meaningful to see the impact of our singing,” Ceci said. “I remember one hospice patient who rarely spoke but lit up when we sang. They would join the singing – on pitch and with the right lyrics – and over time would even share some words after the music had ended.”

Volunteering with Goodwin Hospice is a calling for Ceci. “I’ve long been interested in the conscious death and dying movement,” she shared, “and I wanted to do more direct, hands-on and compassionate volunteer service in my local community.”

Even with a year-long course in hospice companioning under her belt, she still found the experience of volunteering with a hospice surprising. “I’m awed by the strong sense that time spent with hospice patients gives the giver far more than what is being given,” she said.

The Rewards of Volunteering with Hospice

Caleb and Joanne share Ceci’s sentiment. “My primary goal when I started was to bring some joy, variety and companionship to the patients,” said Caleb. “I didn’t expect to get those things in return. When I drop by for a visit and see the patients light up and engage with me at whatever level they can to share in a fun conversation or a good laugh, it makes my day!”

Joanne appreciates the opportunity to give back. “I enjoy visiting people and helping out where needed,” she said. “Goodwin Hospice needs volunteers like me to support their vital work.”

Goodwin Hospice volunteers are wonderful, dedicated individuals in our communities who selflessly give their time and talents to care for hospice patients and their loved ones in so many different ways. We are grateful and thankful for the support they provide to people in a critical time of life.

Whatever your talent or time, Goodwin Hospice offers many different opportunities and levels of commitment for volunteers to help. If you are interested in volunteering for Goodwin Hospice, please reach out to the Volunteer Coordinator at Hospice@GoodwinLiving.org.

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As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin Living to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining Goodwin Living, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.

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