Hospice is not a loss of hope. It is about living your life to the fullest, in comfort and joy, until the end, according to ThedaCare at Home Hospice. The agency operates two hospice inpatient facilities, both located at the Heritage Peabody Community in Appleton.
Jane Shea, hospice volunteer coordinator, explained that hospice was founded in 1967 by Cicely Saunders, who was a nurse, physician and social worker.
“She recognized that people who were dying didn’t only have physical pain,” she said. “She recognized that if a person’s emotional pain was reduced, they would require less medication. Hospice comes from hospitality and working with people in their home.”
Hospice is the only Medicare-funded program that has a required volunteer element. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, volunteers must provide at least 5 percent of care to hospice patients, due to the Medicare Conditions of Participation.
Five members of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program served 276 hours last year with hospice agencies in the Fox Cities.
“It is critical that we always have enough volunteers, so we can show that we’re meeting the need for Medicare,” Shea said, “but we also know that volunteers can add to the quality of a person’s day or their total hospice experience, because they can provide emotional support for the family. By being an extra set of eyes and ears, we offer the family an extra layer of care.”
ThedaCare At Home provides formal training for volunteers in spring and fall using a team approach. A nurse, chaplain, social worker, certified nursing assistant and bereavement coordinator talk about their roles, which overlap with the role of volunteers. The next two-day training session is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 6 and 7 at Encircle Health in Appleton.
Volunteers can play a role in a variety of areas. They can choose to work at the Hospice Residence or Cherry Meadows, in which case they work directly with the hospice team. They may serve meals to patients and spend time with them and their families. Volunteers who wish to work more independently can volunteer in patient’s homes, assisted living facilities or nursing homes. There they may play cards, read or watch TV with patients. When a volunteer is visiting a patient in their home, it allows the spouse or family member to have a short break.
Some volunteers help in the bereavement program. They follow up with patients’ families for 13 months after the patient’s death.
“When a couple has been married for 60 years and one of them dies, it’s helpful to have someone touch base with them to see how they’re doing,” Shea said. “It’s nice for them to have that connection. Our volunteers make those phone calls.”
A group of volunteers operates Hospice Hopes and Dreams Gift’s from the Heart, funded by ThedaCare Family of Foundations. This program helps fund the last wishes, dreams and hopes of patients and their families during their end-of-life journeys. Staff notifies the volunteers that someone in the hospice program is having a birthday or celebrating an anniversary. They do a little research and purchase small gifts for the person, like cake or flowers and sometimes deliver the gift.
“Patients get hopes and dreams fulfilled,” Shea said. “Our volunteers love being a part of that. The ladies who serve on it feel very fortunate and privileged to have that role – they’re part of the Dream Team!”