Using Hospice Volunteers During COVID

I was Zooming with a hospice today for Q & A’s and the subject of not being able to use volunteers because of Covid came up. WHOA!!! What do you mean you can’t use volunteers because of Covid? They are more important now than ever! We just have to use them differently.
Because of social distancing and lock downs, significant others, whether their hospice person is at home or in a nursing facility, are so very much alone.
The fear, worry, and concerns brought about by end of life situations  are compounded by the isolation imposed by covid and this pandemic. Often there is limited contact and physical support from family, friends and neighbors. The primary care person/significant other is alone with their thoughts way too often and for too long. It is a very scary time.

SO the phone and your volunteers become a valuable asset to hospice care. How? Assign a volunteer to each family whether the patient is in their home or a residential care facility before the death, as soon as they come on service. 

The volunteer’s job is to make daily phone contact, become a friend, a resource person. The person that asks, "Do you need anything? How are things going today? Did you sleep well last night? What are you having for dinner?" All friend-like questions and concerns. 

The volunteer offers reassurance, is a contact with the hospice nurse, social worker or chaplain, and reports back concerns. The volunteer is an extra pair of eyes and ears, as well as emotional support for the family/significant other during a time of increased insecurity, fear, and confusion.

Follow through with this use of volunteers following the death. Use the same volunteer who has now become a familiar friend.

A daily call for the first few weeks following the death helps again with the isolation. The church ladies aren’t bringing in casseroles and the family generally isn’t dropping by (due to wanting to keep loved ones safe from Covid exposure). 

This lack of normal contact intensifies the normal grief patterns. Having a volunteer making daily phone contact as bereavement support provides a “look out” for possible grief pathology. Also, just having a friend check in each day is reassuring and comforting during these challenging times.

A wonderful part of the hospice program is using volunteers as support for families. That service doesn’t need to stop just because of Covid. We just have to think outside of the box for creative ways to provide the best, most comprehensive end of life care for our patients and families.

Something More... about Using Hospice Volunteers During COVID
Hospice volunteers could read the section of Gone From My Sight that applies to patient with the family caregiver.  "Dad is sleeping more and not interested in food?  Then let's turn to page..."  This will also clear up the unknown about what to expect next in Dad's care.  If there seems to be a resistance to administering pain medications, read applicable sections of the booklet, Pain At End of Life to clear up any misconceptions.

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Myra Bennett

Thank you Barbara! Why hasn’t the hospice’s come to this understanding?!

Tina M. Pfeiffer

Barbara, thank you for this encouraging post. My dog Martin and I are a pet therapy team volunteering at hospice. We have not been allowed to volunteer for almost a year. Is it appropriate for me to bring your post to the volunteer services coordinator? Thank you. I am also an 11th hour volunteer and your books have truly inspired me.

randi bishop

I am a hospice volunteer. I did both respite and bereavement calls. The calls I made were to families/friends with whom I had no contact previously. I find it extremely difficult to continue on with loved ones after the passing. I find it best for my self care to stop contact as soon as possible. The few times I have stepped up and made the bereavement calls to folks I had served it became awkward as they were assuming I was now a “friend”. I do make one last call after the passing to offer my condolences,and that seems to satisfy me and them. I would like to hear from other volunteers on this.

Virginia Gonzalez

Loved this piece! I wish we could shout it from the mountain top. I have continued using our volunteers since the beginning of the pandemic in which they are able to stay connected to patients and families while bringing them color, love and support. All services are either performed right outside of the home/facility of where the patient resides where the volunteer never needs to enter or simply having the volunteer provide a service from the safety of their home.

As you said, it’s all about thinking outside of the box. Our volunteers still provide companionship visits by window or door side along with phone calls and letters as well.

I created a new program called the “Sunshiners” in which I have volunteers go to the home to paint window art on the bedroom window of where the patient is. The painting is of something that the patient will enjoy. I.E. flowers, mountains, animals etc.

If the family doesn’t want window art then I also offer a canvas painting in which a volunteer draws specifically for the patient and then have it delivered by either our nurse or social worker.

We also have a musical duo of volunteers who go to the home and/or facility to perform music outside of the window so the patient can view/hear. And we’ve recently started incorporating rock painting. It’s an easy inexpensive way to still keep volunteers engaged and working from home while still providing small tokens of color and love for patients to have in their home.
All of these have allowed us to still provide the support and socialization that our patients need now more than ever while also keeping our volunteers safe and engaged.

Our volunteers have been amazing through this whole process and continue to remain active despite the pandemic and open to the creativity that we’ve implemented. I am truly blessed to work with amazing individuals.

Thank you!

Robin Watts

Thank you for reminding us of the importance of volunteers. While many hospice patients suffer from a form of Failure to Thrive due to isolation and meaningless days, the volunteer can be the friend who heals. Volunteers have always been unsung heroes but they may actually be the soul healers needed in desperate times if we remember to utilize them.

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