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New Ulm Medical Center

Hospice volunteers fill a special need for patients, families

A patient enrolled in the Allina Health – New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) hospice program relies on a full team of caregivers to see them through a challenging period in their lives and an important member of that team is the hospice volunteer.

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Jean Boyce chats with Rex Hendley at Oak Hills Living Center on a recent visit. Hendley was actually a hospice patient a few years ago and happily “graduated” out of the program when his health improved. But having formed a special bond with him, Boyce still visits him. That kind of bond with patients is part of what makes volunteering with the hospice program so rewarding, says Boyce.

Volunteers can be helpful not only to a hospice patient but their family members, as well. Especially those who live too far away to help their loved one or family members who have a family of their own to take care of and find it a relief to know that a supportive volunteer is on hand to help.

A hospice volunteer working with patients is able to provide companionship and friendship to patients and respite to caregivers. They can not only lend a listening ear and be a supportive presence, but they can also help with yard work or cleaning that the patient is no longer able to do.

Donna Sluiter, a retired nurse, has been a NUMC hospice volunteer for three and a half years.

“I’ve always enjoyed getting to know people and supporting them emotionally and I thought this would be a good fit,” Sluiter said. “It’s an honor to be part of these patient’s lives as they are going through this stage of their life.”

She generally volunteers 2-3 hours a week. Hospice volunteers are always assigned a patient so that they can work with the same person and so that the patient can feel comfortable seeing the same volunteer each week.

Sluiter said volunteering with the hospice program is extremely rewarding.

“It’s one of those things where you get much more back than you could ever give,” she said.

Jean Boyce has been a volunteer with hospice for 15 years.

“My mother had died of pancreatic cancer in 1995. We were very close and it was very hard,” she said. The experience of sitting with her mother every day for two weeks prior to her death, paired with a background in working at Highland Nursing Home, made being a hospice volunteer seem like a good fit.

“It’s such a good feeling to be appreciated. I’m one who likes to feel needed,” Boyce said. “There is such an appreciation from both the patients and their family members.”

Boyce said she fears that potential volunteers may not realize what a hospice volunteer does and they may be scared off by the unknowns.

“You aren’t doing any of the direct patient cares for patients,” she explained. “It’s sitting and talking with them or watching TV, playing cards or games. It’s not hard work and it just feels good.”

“What I would say to anyone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer with the hospice program is to really consider it,” Sluiter said. “It’s so appreciated by the patient and the family.”

The NUMC Hospice program currently has 18 volunteers and welcomes the opportunity to have more volunteers. Potential volunteers with the NUMC hospice program follow several steps:

  • Complete an application.
  • Complete a background check.
  • Be cleared through NUMC Employee Health (ensuring that all immunizations are up to date).
  • Complete an interview.
  • Complete 12 hours (2 days) of training which covers topics such as medical ethics, spiritual care, bereavement and self-care.

After their training is done, hospice volunteers can co-visit patients with a seasoned volunteer and when the volunteer feels comfortable, they will be assigned a patient. Volunteers can meet with patients where ever they call ‘home’ – including a care facility, nursing home or their family home.

“Volunteers meet once a month to discuss how things are going and to make sure they are taking care of themselves,” said NUMC Volunteer Coordinator Missy Dreckman. “Patient details are never discussed, however. Volunteers are held to the same privacy standards as New Ulm Medical Center staff and physicians.”

Volunteers complete a Volunteer Contact Form after every visit with a patient as well as noting their visit in the patient’s journal in their home.

To find out more about becoming a NUMC hospice volunteer, call Missy Dreckman at 507-217-5111.