Volunteers are an integral part of the hospice team, filling roles that range from direct contact with patients to providing clerical and fundraising support for the organization. Hospices that participate with Medicare are required to utilize volunteers alongside their paid clinical and administrative staff. Hospice volunteers describe their work as gratifying, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally meaningful. Hospices require a lot from their volunteers and value them greatly.
How hospice volunteers serve
You should contact your local hospice for more details on their specific needs. Use HFA's Hospice Directory to find a hospice near you so that you can call and speak with the volunteer coordinator. You may also consider visiting their website to learn more about their volunteer program. Some of the opportunities available for hospice volunteers include:
Support for patients. This can include visiting, reading, taking walks, writing letters, interpreting for those who do not speak English, bringing in music, and supervising therapeutic visits with pets. Volunteers with necessary certification can also provide massage therapy. Some hospices also utilize volunteers who offer complementary therapies such as aroma therapy or therapeutic touch.
Respite and support for family members. Volunteers can assist with shopping or light household maintenance, or allow family caregivers the opportunity to take care of necessary errands, exercise, or simply have some time alone. Volunteers can also help care for a family pet.
Child care assistance. This can include help with babysitting, picking up children from school or providing necessary transportation to club meetings or sporting events and practices.
Bereavement support programs. Hospice volunteers can work closely with the hospice’s bereavement staff. Duties may include assisting a support group facilitator, serving refreshments, or helping with mailings to families.
Fundraising and administrative work. A volunteer with clerical skills can serve a hospice by helping in the office with administrative duties. Fundraising responsibilities can range from preparing mailings or thank-you letters to organizing fundraising events and contacting potential donors.
Special skills and interests. Many hospices utilize volunteers to maintain their grounds and landscaping. Notaries, barbers and beauticians often volunteer their services to patients. Musicians often volunteer to play at hospice inpatient facilities.
Most hospices require volunteers to be over the age of 18 or 21, but some have volunteer programs for high school students. It is not uncommon for people whose loved one died in hospice care to want to volunteer for the hospice provider soon after the death, but most hospices require newly bereaved volunteer candidates to wait for a period of time before volunteering at the bedside. Hospices typically require prospective volunteers to submit to a background check, usually at the hospice's expense. To ensure that volunteers are equipped for the challenge of working with the dying, they are required to complete extensive orientation and training sessions. A hospice may require volunteers to have a valid driver's license, particularly if the volunteer will be traveling to patient homes.
There are relatively few hospices that are staffed entirely by volunteers. Typically, such hospices are non-medical providers that offer practical and emotional support to patients with terminal illness and their families. Services may include assitance around the house, companionship, and transportation. In such arrangements, patients do not receive medical care from the volunteer hospice, although they may elect to receive medical and social work services from a Medicare-certified hospice, or other types of care that are not specific to hospice.