Hospice volunteers in demand: Area residents share their stories about helping others to die in peace
BY RACHEL M. ANDERSON – CONTRIBUTING WRITER
“They were absolutely fabulous. You could not have possibly asked for a more compassionate or caring or attentive team than the people who served my mom during the time she was ill,” said Hallock, whose mother, Anita Hallock, received hospice care for the last year of her life.
Anita Hallock died in February 2008 about a year after undergoing radiation to treat a brain tumor. She was 89.
Hospice care provides medical services, emotional support and spiritual resources for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness. Hospice care also helps family members manage the practical details and emotional challenges of caring for a dying loved one.
Much of the work is done by volunteers.
Debbie Campbell of Brooklyn Park, a volunteer with St. Croix Hospice, responded to an ad on Craigslist.
“I called the number then scheduled a meeting with the volunteer coordinator,” she said.
During that meeting, Olson learned more about hospice, and what the organization needed volunteers to do. She started volunteering right away and continues to do so.
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the concept of hospice has been evolving since medieval times. The modern concept of hospice focuses on patients who are incurably ill and would rather spend the last months and days of life in their own homes, surrounded by their loves ones.
Deborah Pascuzzi, Director of Hospice of Twin Cities in Minneapolis, says a lot of the credit for the great service hospice provides goes to the agency’s volunteers. A few months after losing her mother, Diane Hallock became a volunteer.
She approached Hospice of the Twin Cities with the idea of starting a “Holiday Lights and Limo Program” as a tribute to her mother.
“During my mother’s last holiday season with us, I wanted to give her a gift she would really enjoy. I thought taking her out in a limo to see the holiday lights with my sister and some of my mother’s nieces would be fun.”
The trip was a hit.
“She absolutely loved doing it,” Hallock said. “She loved getting ready for the evening, getting her hair fixed up, her nails done, having everyone come to the nursing home and board the limo with her.”
Since the program started in 2008, limousine and transit companies have donated their time and vehicles to make more than 500 holiday light tours possible for hospice patients and their families. Holiday treat bags for the patients, visits from Santa and photo sessions for the families are also donated.
Each year, about 100 volunteers work together to pull off the event. Hallock has headed the program since its inception and works on planning throughout the year.
Hallock’s volunteer work comes in the form of an administrative role, but Amie McArdell, director of volunteer services for St. Croix Hospice explains there are many other opportunities available.
“Becoming a volunteer is easy to do,” she said. “First you would need to meet with a volunteer coordinator, then fill out some paperwork and get registered for an orientation session where you learn how to report things like abuse and neglect, how to recognize signs and symptoms of dying, patient confidentiality and HIPAA.”
The latter is the rules about what volunteers can and can’t say about a hospice patient’s status under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, approved in 1996.
The second part of training covers more of the companionship aspect – how to work with families, how to communicate with people who are terminally ill, how to incorporate spirituality into the end of life experience. There is also training in how to be a good listener, how to help a patient who has dementia and how to create a calm atmosphere for a person at the end of their life. Training for people with companion animals is also available.
Depending on the area of volunteering a person chooses, orientation can take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours. Opportunities range from administrative duties to actually sitting with patients through the moment of death.
“We train individuals based on their interests and what they are able to do. We understand that not everybody is comfortable with being that close to people passing away,” said McArdell.
Campbell, however, considers it a privilege to sit with people in their final hours.
“I just don’t think people should die alone if they don’t want to,” she said. “It is an overwhelming gift because you get to understand what a private, private time it is, and the family and patients, if they are aware, are just so happy and grateful to have somebody — anybody — there.”
“We have a really big need. More than 75 percent of our patients and their families request help from volunteers. We are always looking for people who are compassionate and patient,” said McArdell.
Pascuzzi adds that the need for volunteers is greatest in the summer and winter when their regular helpers tend to go on vacation and are unavailable.
“But we are growing so much as a hospice that our need is pretty steady throughout the year,” she said.
Can you volunteer?
For more information about how to get involved, log onto the website for St. Croix Hospice, stcroixhospice.com, or call 651-735-3656. More information about Hospice of the Twin Cities can be found at hospiceofthetwincities.com or by calling 763-531-2424. Both organizations serve the entire Twin Cities Metro and beyond, and send volunteers to the patient’s home, whether it is a private home, assisted living, nursing home or long-term care facility.