South Florida Hospital News
Thursday August 6, 2020
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April 2014 - Volume 10 - Issue 10
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Volunteers Are the Unsung Heroes in a Healthcare Environment

In 2013, 64.5 million Americans, a quarter of our total population, volunteered time to help others in their communities donating 7.9 billion hours of service. Volunteers in the healthcare environment add quality of life for patients and assume many tasks that alleviate the time burdens of clinical staff. Hospitals easily draw support from people of all ages anxious to donate their time. Many of those people think that volunteering for a hospice would be sad and depressing. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
 
Hospice by the Sea volunteer, Phil Orso, spends time with hospice patients in their homes as well as in the nonprofit organization’s care centers. He knows the difference he makes, especially when they recognize his touch or voice. They know he is there for them and that, he says, is his “great reward.”
 
Hospice volunteers come into a patient’s life as a compassionate listener, a concerned “stranger” who quickly becomes a confidant, a shoulder to lean on, someone who is there because he or she wants to be there. Many of Hospice by the Sea’s 550 volunteers have more than 20 years of service. They say that hospice becomes a part of you, that it “gets in your blood.”
 
Whether it is in an inpatient setting or the place a patient calls home, volunteers provide the non-clinical, human connection. They help create a calm environment for the patient and family members, and they often free up the caregiver’s time to focus more fully on their duties. The patient and family often do not have visitors because friends and other family members simply don’t know what to say. Some families can become disenfranchised because of past disagreements and separation. For those patients, especially, there is an intrinsic value in knowing that someone is talking with you voluntarily, without being paid for their time. It makes the patient feel valued.
 
Everyone has a story to tell at end of life – things they haven’t told anyone, and may be uncomfortable telling a family member. The Volunteer has that anonymity and neutrality to absorb and listen without making judgments. Patients and family members will often speak more freely to a volunteer than with a professional. They want to be seen as more than just their symptoms and they appreciate the informality of the volunteer culture as a chance to unwind.
 
In addition to conversation, volunteers bring joy to their patients’ long days. They will read to the patient or take them outside. A visit from a volunteer music therapist or certified pet therapist becomes a calming influence. They can bring a dying patient closure just by writing a letter to someone the patient won’t get to see before passing.
 
People volunteer for many reasons. Some have experienced the wonderful support of hospice care for a family and want to pay it forward. Others simply do not want anyone to pass away alone. For students wishing to pursue a career, volunteering is a way to extend their healthcare knowledge and develop skills as future professionals in the field. They apply for medical or nursing school, having had the experience of working with patients.
 
Naturally, not all volunteers are comfortable on the clinical side of healthcare. There are a variety of administrative tasks they assume, like helping to assemble packets, repackaging supplies, welcoming visitors at the Hospitality Desk, or working at the Thrift Shop. These volunteers feel the same satisfaction of helping a healthcare provider and enjoy the camaraderie of working together. When there is a desire to help, Hospice by the Sea will find the right role for that person.
Christine Golia is the Director of Volunteers for Hospice by the Sea, Inc. She can be reached at cgolia@hbts.org.
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