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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This is so helpful, Barbara. There are things hospice can do. I like the suggestion of calling on a person. It is lonely to be alone during this pandemic. I would like it to apply to those in Palliative care also.

Rosemarie Coletti

I want to thank you for your thoughtful insights and the booklets. I have given a copy of Gone From My Sight to several people when I knew their loved one was in the dying process. It helped me tremendously and helped them. Unfortunately, I have lost all of my immediate family members- My Parents and my one sister. I felt so isolated and alone at times, but your information has been a comfort and I share with others. VITAS was also a big support and continue to be following my Mom’s passing, soon to be one year. Thank you for all you do- it made a difference in my healing.

Joanne Ciampi

Our volunteers have been sending cheerful cards – some with cute pictures created by grandchildren – and/or calling patients who are able to talk by phone. Since our social workers and chaplains have been keeping up regularly with caregivers, we hadn’t asked volunteers to call them. We will now!


So appreciated these comments. Because of fear, many healthcare professionals and para-professionals think they can’t provide services anymore. We absolutely can! It all depends on your comfort level. I am comfortable going into clients’ homes and holding their hand. I realize many are not. But they can call, just like you said! We can’t stop doing what we have been called to do because of this virus. What if doctors and nurses thought that way???

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