Volunteers play a pivotal role in hospice care, providing the simple gift of conversation and presence.
The roots of hospice lie in ancient family patterns when several generations lived together, with birth and death as routine as the seasons.
“Our culture is so busy now we don’t even have the concept of keeping our grandparents at home,” said Sandy Nevinski, clinical director of Hospice of the Twin Cities in Minneapolis. “I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. It just is.”
Much of a hospice volunteer’s work sounds quite ordinary: Just be there.
“Hospice is so much about a presence,” Nevinski said. “There is a lot of power in presence. If someone comes into a room, say, in a nursing home and their patient is sleeping, they’re not going to say, ‘This is about me being here,’ and wake them up. It can be as comforting as just sitting near them.”
A typical hospice care team includes a nurse, social worker, home health aide and a volunteer companion, but there also are options for a chaplain, a music therapist, massage therapist or pet therapy. Volunteers are always needed, and while many are retired people with more flexible schedules, Nevinski said, she welcomes folks in their 20s and 30s, partly because some hospice patients are younger. Volunteers are asked to give at least two hours each week, for at least one year.
Volunteers get six hours of online training and 12 hours of on-site training, in addition to a state background check and tuberculin skin test. Volunteers need a valid driver’s license for patient visits.