HAMMONTON – At any given time Heartland Hospice has a number of patients in Hammonton who rely on the agency’s team of nurses, aides, social workers and volunteers to provide comfort and care in their time of ultimate need.
Making a challenging situation more difficult is the fact that those volunteers come from as far away as Cape May County to tend to local patients because at the moment Heartland has no volunteers in Hammonton.
The agency has a number of patients in Hammonton who have requested volunteers.
“To fulfill the need volunteers come from as far away as Wildwood Crest and Clayton. We would love to have volunteers from Hammonton to visit our hospice patients here,” said Margie Barham, volunteer coordinator in the agency’s Northfield office.
Barham was the guest speaker during the Monday, June 26, meeting of the Hammonton Rotary Club.
“I recruit and train volunteers because volunteers are a very important part of what we do,” the Beesleys Point resident said.
Heartland, one of the nation’s largest hospice agencies, is a leader of a team that includes the family, the patient’s doctor, medical director, nurse practitioner, registered nurses, aides, social worker, spiritual care coordinator, bereavement counselor, dietitian, pharmacist plus physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.
“But we also have a massage therapist, music therapist and pet therapist who are volunteers. And we have volunteers who provide friendly visitors to patients.
“It’s that friendly ear; it’s just someone to sit and talk to, someone who hasn’t heard the stories already, no baggage.”
Volunteers come in all varieties. Some are retirees, others are family members of former patients, but a great many others do it while managing families of their own and working full time.
“These are just people that have it in their heart that they want to do something for others.”
That includes the family members as well as the patients.
“Not only does the volunteer provide comfort to the patient, they also provide relief to family members living with the difficult job of caring for an ailing loved one,” she said. “We have volunteers that come and sit with the patient so that caregiver can go grocery shopping or have dinner out or go get their hair done or just take a break.”
To become a volunteer that sits with patients, you must be at least 18, go through a vetting and training process, and get a TB and MMR test.
Once you’re approved, the time commitment doesn’t have to be huge. Typically a volunteer visits with a patient for about an hour twice per month.
“I do have volunteers that have just one patient that they might visit twice a month. We have other volunteers who have multiple patients even once a week, so it really comes down to what time you can devote to doing it.”
Patients are typically at home, but they can also be in a nursing home, or the home of the caregiver, or elsewhere.
“It’s wherever they call home.”
Volunteers can have an impact in surprising ways. She told one story of a man who was estranged from his family who responded so well to the human contact of hospice that he was taken off the service.
In another case, a volunteer made a special connection with a 107-year-old woman in a nursing home. The woman could speak, but she could not hear, so people would rarely talk to her.
“So this volunteer would go to the nursing home with the whiteboard, would write questions to her statements, and the woman would speak and that’s how they had their conversations.
“Our volunteers are very creative,” she continued, adding that often music is used to connect with Alzheimer’s patients who otherwise cannot speak or communicate.
“They can’t speak, but they respond to music, so a lot of times a volunteer will play music try find out what kind of music they like.”
However it’s made, it’s the human connection that matters most.
“You get them reminiscing and talking about their lives and doing a life review; it’s wonderful. That’s truly what it’s all about.”