There is a belief in the Lutheran Church that throughout our individual lives, we are accompanying each other on our respective journeys. As part of Liberty’s Day in the Life series, Jean Irvin, volunteer coordinator for Liberty Hospice, shares how this concept rings true for Hospice volunteers and patients. Here is Jean’s story.
Liberty Hospice’s team includes our medical director, social workers, our chaplain, skilled nurses, hospice aides, and volunteers. We all work together to provide support and compassionate care to those who have a life expectancy of six months or less, although if a patient improves but still manages a life threatening diagnosis we have served them upwards of a year prior to their passing.
I joined Liberty Hospice as the volunteer coordinator on January 25, 2017, and for the past year there has been no typical day. Hospice is very fluid, and one day is never the same as the next. My work depends upon the needs of our patients and our case load.
Each morning I check to see if there are any new requests for hospice services from residents at Paul’s Run, Artman and The Hearth at Drexel. Liberty Hospice also currently provides services to patients in six other communities in Southeastern Pennsylvania, while maintaining relationships with communities we’ve served in the past.
We currently have about 30 volunteers who engage patients in a variety of ways. Some of our patients can be more active, while for others, just talking about pictures in their room can bring back incredible memories that create a real sense of joy. For those who are non-verbal, simply sitting with them provides support and a connection that reassures them that someone is there for them.
Our volunteers demonstrate an incredible amount of commitment. Serving as a hospice volunteer isn’t easy, but it’s purpose-driven and fulfilling for many of those who share their time with us. We want to make sure they are connected with our mission and recognized as valuable members of the Hospice team. To achieve that goal, I check in with our volunteers over the phone and through e-mail to see how they’re doing and to checkup on their availability. We also host volunteer appreciation events and education programs, and during major holidays and volunteer appreciation month we also send out cards and notes expressing our gratitude for everything they do. Making our volunteers feel appreciated is key to providing the best hospice care.
I also recruit volunteers on a daily basis. This includes managing applications to ensure they’ve met our criteria to volunteer. Once their paperwork is complete I coordinate and provide orientations, and try to meet them in the field when they’re visiting a patient for the first time.
There’s a large administrative aspect to my role as well. As the volunteer coordinator for Liberty Hospice I’m also a member of the interdisciplinary team. When there is a request for our services we usually get paperwork on the patient from a nurse or a social worker. From there we log information into a variety of systems to track and generate reports for the patients’ records.
Every time a volunteer goes out to see a patient, I organize the correct paperwork and work with other members of the interdisciplinary team to ensure that we track which volunteer is working with a certain patient. All of the information we create ends up in our patients’ charts, which also needs to be logged in to Hospice’s patient tracking system.
Hospice offers several programs and activities to create positive experiences for those we’re serving, such as Music and Memory and pet therapy. It warms my heart when I see a patient light up with joy at the sight or touch of one of the volunteer-dogs we bring in to provide companionship. Some of our patients have been required to give up a beloved pet, so when they get the chance to participate in pet therapy the positive impact can be immeasurable.
Part of my job is to also work with volunteers to create playlists for our Music and Memory program. For this, we contact family members to find out what our patients enjoyed listening to throughout their life, and what songs may draw special memories. We dig deep and do our homework to make a meaningful impact. I’ve seen non-verbal patients sing songs verbatim, and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia recall memories based upon the songs we play for them on an iPod.
Coordinating services can include organizing ceremonies for our We Honor Veterans program, which recognizes the sacrifices of those who have been in our armed forces. As with everything we do, this can be requested in advance or require a very quick turnaround. We work very diligently to ensure we meet the needs of those we’re serving.
Liberty Hospice also provides bereavement services to families of patients who have passed away. We keep in touch with them for 13 months following their loved one’s passing. The first card each family member will receive is one that is hand-signed by our staff. Every time we have a team meeting, which is every other Wednesday, I bring the cards for everyone to sign and then send them to each family member.
Right now we’re providing support to approximately 500 family members by offering grief counseling and holding support groups, which are also open to the public. We stay connected with them in a variety of ways; one of which is through the mail, which is the area I coordinate with volunteers. Given the number of family members we’re reaching to out this can be a large and important task.
The important thing I want to share is that there are tons of volunteer opportunities with Liberty Hospice, whether they’re directly connected with patients or helping us within our offices. We even have some volunteers who work within Liberty Lutheran’s family of services and we’ve have had their friends and family referred to us as well.
Being a Hospice volunteer is not about being part of someone’s death. It’s about being part of someone’s life. The comfort and companionship we provide at Liberty Hospice is so important for our patients and their families, and I see it on a daily basis. Being a part of this team is a truly important part of my life.
The compassionate care that Jean, and everyone at Liberty Hospice, brings to our patients and their families is integral to Liberty’s mission to serve as a vital resource for individuals and their families. If you are interested in volunteering with Liberty Hospice, or know someone who might be, please reach out to Jean at [email protected] or visit LibertyLutheran.org/volunteer.