Sunday, October 24, 2010



I got to know Jenn when I noticed her ads in Craigslist, seeking volunteers for Hospice Hawaii. Over the course of a few months, I got to know her via email correspondence and needless to say, I'm impressed with her commitment and professionalism. Her education and training has been in Community Agency Counseling so it is a nice fit for both Hospice Hawaii and Jenn.

Jenn has been with Hospice Hawaii for about 18 months and is involved with recruiting and managing the volunteers. Medicare requires that 5% of a hospice's direct patient care be done by volunteers so hospices depend on volunteers a lot. Yet, the recruitment, management and training of the volunteers are not covered by Medicare reimbursement so they are also highly dependent on donations from the community to cover those expenses.

Volunteers who will have any kind of patient/family interaction are required to complete 20 hours of training after passing an extensive screening process. There is an interview, criminal background check, reference checks and TB checks. Once they begin training, the training process is also used as a screening tool to determine if the potential volunteer is emotionally prepared for this type of volunteering.

Many volunteers choose not to have patient/family contact and these individuals are able to volunteer right away doing clerical or other work not involving patient or family contact. Hospice Hawaii runs  2  training cycles a year so many of those who wish to volunteer right away are able to volunteer in non-patient/family contact situations while they wait for their training period to begin.

Hospice care is a range of services that provides for the health and comfort to individuals who are nearing the end of their lives. Typically, they are individuals who are terminally ill and are expected to live for six months or less and have refused or are not good candidates for additional curative treatment.

The hospice team is made up of physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, aides, spiritual providers and volunteers. They work together to make the patient and family as physically and emotionally comfortable as possible. Acceptance of the ending of one's life is also a very important part of the program. Many patients, as do family members experience fear, anger, depression and other very intense emotions.

Volunteer trainees at Hospice Hawaii are trained by their Chaplain, who focuses on the significance of death and the intention and motivation of each volunteer who want to serve. He firmly encourages them to reflect on their own losses in life. The trainees are also exposed to the other members of the staff who each give insights from their own specialty's perspective. They are also exposed to a panel of caregivers so the trainees can obtain firsthand experiences of caring for a loved one facing death. Veteran volunteers also give the trainees insight on their volunteer experience.

After the 20 hour course, all trainees are required to complete 3 two-hour visits to one of Hospice Hawaii's in-patient units so that they gain experience in a supportive environment where staff members are on hand to supervise and mentor them. Following these visits, trainees are paired with veteran volunteers whom they shadow for a visit to a patient's home.

After these steps are completed, the volunteer is assigned his/her own patient. Jenn monitors the volunteers to make sure they maintain healthy boundaries of helping too much or not being able to let go after a death of a patient. Jenn herself volunteers with patients on her own time and that keeps her involved with the issues her volunteers may face from time to time. When Jenn herself needs help and support, the Chaplain is able to supervise and mentor her.

Jenn finds that working with her own patients also feeds her spiritually in ways nothing else does. She is also inspired by her co-workers because they share a common goal.... patients come first.

Many who are unemployed during this downturn in the economy turn to volunteering. Volunteering at Hospice Hawaii keeps one's mind active and also helps in networking for other opportunities. And that makes sense. Many business people are involved with nonprofits and often refer volunteers they meet to their network of business owners when good employment opportunities open up. The life's skills one learns through the volunteering experience are valuable to a prospective employer when he has a key position to fill.

To Jenn and her volunteers, I tip my hat.

No comments: