Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hospice Patients ‘Appreciate’ Volunteers

Cami Brutlag of Sallisaw, left, with her therapy dog, Molly the greyhound, visit with Amber Mahar, hospice director at Sequoyah Memorial Hospital Hospice and Home Care. The patients “love” visits from Molly, Mahar said.


For those still in a giving mood this Christmas season, there are numerous volunteer opportunities in the area. One of those opportunities most appreciated is with hospice.

Most home health care agencies in the area have a volunteer program with their hospice services, including Peters Agency and Sequoyah Memorial Hospital (SMH) Hospice and Home Care in Sallisaw. Amber Mahar is the director of SMH Hospice.

Mahar said, “Hospice enhances patients’ experiences and gives them a better quality of life. It really does make a difference.”

SMH Hospice is a non-profit agency that provides end-of-life care to the terminally ill. The hospice team includes a medical director, nurse, home health aides, therapists, a medical social worker, a chaplain and the volunteers.

Sequoyah Memorial Hospital hospice covers a small area and has, on average, 12 or so hospice patients at a time, and averages 10 to 12 volunteers. The volunteers range from students who need to accumulate volunteer hours for their respective programs, and who sometimes come back to work in the program, to moms who make cookies, to a pet therapist who likes to take her dog to visit patients not only in hospice care but in the hospital also.

Hospice volunteers can take on any number of jobs Mahar said, from filing in the local hospice office to aiding patients and their families.

Hospice care actually began as a volunteer activity, Mahar pointed out. Without volunteers’ efforts, hospices could not continue their work.

Hospice care seeks to provide emotional support to patients and their families during a difficult time. It allows a person to die with dignity in his or her own home, if possible. Hospice helps dying patients stay as active and independent as they can.

The volunteers who work with patients must listen to concerns, and help patients find their own answers to important questions. They keep the patient company, may read to the patients or just sit quietly in the room. They provide a link to the hospice staff, report on the needs of the patient and family, and are often the one patients and family members turn to for comfort, help and support.

To become a SMH Hospice volunteer, the person will fill out an application and meet with the SMH Hospice volunteer coordinator Eric McDaniel. He must find out why the volunteer is applying and his or her experience. Many medical professionals are hospice volunteers, Mahar said.

If a volunteer is accepted into the program, they will then take the training, which lasts about 16 hours, Mahar said. The training includes watching 10- to 20-minute videos, and reading about the service.

“There are no tests,” Mahar said.

The training covers the hospice approach to death and dying and how to put those ideas into practice; the psychological impact of death; patient care; procedures to follow after a patient dies; and universal precautions to protect against infection. Volunteers get an overview of the most common terminal illnesses; learn communication skills, or how to listen effectively; how to talk openly about death-related issues; and learn how family members relate to one another to deal with the individuals and issues.

Volunteers must be emotionally up to the task.

Mahar added, “The training depends on the volunteer and their own experiences.”

Once training is complete, the new volunteer will visit with patients under the tutelage of McDaniel or an experienced volunteer. Mahar said volunteers may be assigned to patients who share the same interests.

One patient, she recalled, wanted to go fishing, and a fishing volunteer helped that patient.

But volunteers don’t always work with patients. Mahar explained administrative volunteers may answer the phones, may do in-house filing, may paint the office or do carpentry work if experienced. Some volunteers prepare meals. Some do housework.

One volunteer who likes to do yard work often mows the lawn for the elderly or ill without family to do the same. One woman likes to bake.

“She calls up every month or so and says, ‘I’ve got six dozen cookies. Who do I take them to?’”

Another volunteer, Cami Brutlag of Sallisaw, takes her therapy dog, Molly the greyhound, to visit both hospice and hospital patients.

“The patients love it!” Mahar said.

The opportunities are endless.

And most home health care services offer hospice care.

Tara Moss is the volunteer coordinator with Peters Agency Hospice in Sallisaw. She said, “We are looking for many facets of volunteers. We are looking for people who have different talents and want to help our families and patients.

“We are all about compassion for our patients,” Moss said.

For information on volunteering with Peters Agency contact Moss at 918-775-6555, ext. 1.

Mahar said, “The patients, especially in nursing homes, just want some type of human interaction. But the volunteer can do as little or as much as they have time for. They bridge the gap between hospital and home.”

For more information on volunteering with SMH Hospice and Home care at 918-774-1171.

“Our patients sure are appreciative,” Mahar said.



Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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