One of the greatest gifts someone can give another person is to share that time at the end of someone’s life and make each remaining moment important. At Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Kentucky, volunteers do just that.
Hospice supports the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of individuals who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have less than six months to live, and having a support system is essential.
Multi-disciplinary in nature, Hospice relies on volunteers as an integral part of the support team.
“Volunteers are the heart of Hospice,” said Volunteer Coordinator Edna Duggins. Most of the people who volunteer are those who have had an experience with Hospice that makes them want to give back, she said.
Requirements to become a volunteer include completing an application and background check, undergoing tuberculosis testing, determining in what area the volunteer wants to assist and undergoing training. Depending on the person’s interest and personality, there are two types of volunteers — direct and indirect. Direct volunteers work one-on-one with families, providing support, companionship and respite care. Indirect volunteers perform a variety of tasks. One may have a hobby they want to share with patients and their families, such as singing or playing an instrument, while others may just want to arrange flowers and deliver them. Currently, Hospice has slightly fewer than 100 indirect volunteers, while there are just 35 direct patient volunteers.
For Alison Wheatley, manager of the Heartford House, “Volunteers really keep the Heartford House running. They sit at the front desk, lead family members to loved ones’ rooms, bring the snack cart around twice a day and help in the family kitchen.”
Volunteers can choose to help at the administration building on Wathens Crossing, the Heartford House or in patients’ homes.
For in-home patients, every home is assessed. Duggins visits each home and speaks with the patient and family. From here, she makes matches and introduces volunteers to the patient and family. Her goal is for every patient to have a good match.
Both Duggins and Wheatley agreed that many people have it wrong about Hospice and said there is a stigma surrounding its existence that makes people afraid.
“Hospice is not about dying — it’s about living,” Duggins said. “Living our best life and the time we have left.”
“It’s not about the end. It’s about extending people’s lives. I wish that was more the message across the country --not about giving up,” Wheatley said
For more than 20 years, volunteers Darlena Cook and her husband, James “Jam” Cook, have seen the kindness of people through their experience at Hospice. Darlena Cook said that sharing their time has been “a way of giving back,” which she finds very fulfilling.
“Volunteers can get attached. They are a caring, compassionate group of people. These are the kinds of people we need,” said Duggins.