A hospice volunteer holds a patient in a hug
Healthy Living

What it Takes to be a Hospice Volunteer

May 14 2019

Being a Mercy Health – New Life Hospice volunteer makes a difference in the lives of patients and families

Every day, new patients and families enroll in Mercy Health – New Life Hospice. Mercy Health’s program and has served generations of families over several decades. The ongoing commitment to provide comfort and care to patients who are seriously ill was a natural addition to the Mercy Health family when the Hospice service was launched in the 1980s.

The program embraces the values of the national hospice movement, and mirrors those that have guided Mercy Health for 120 years. Mercy Health – New Life Hospice offers a community approach to care. This touches on experts in hospice and end-of-life care or a hospice volunteer, who can be invaluable to the program.

The physician and nursing staff deliver the direct patient care, while volunteers provide additional enrichment and hands-on support at the inpatient center and in the home. From visiting and simply listening to patients and family members or providing complimentary services, such as haircuts, healing touch therapy or respite for caregivers, all volunteer roles are designed to enhance a patient’s experience.

What it takes to volunteer in hospice

With more than 70 active volunteers, Susan O’Keefe, volunteer services manager, Mercy Health – New Life Hospice, says that it takes someone who is understanding, compassionate, a good listener and can respect boundaries. “The job is not without stress or sadness, but it is so gratifying.”

While having an active volunteer program is a requirement of Hospice programs, O’Keefe says that Mercy Health – New Life Hospice is fortunate to have a stable and robust team of volunteers. She says that there is always a need for more volunteers and often those who call with interest are family and friends of former patients who have seen the benefits of Hospice. Volunteer roles vary based on a person’s interest and skill set.

According to O’Keefe, new volunteers undergo 23 hours of training and then shadow a seasoned volunteer. The Mercy Health program has an inpatient center and an outpatient program. Volunteers can choose what is the best setting for them.

She says that not everyone is comfortable in some roles, such as going into a patient’s private home or providing respite care for families when they need a break. O’Keefe says that she accompanies new volunteers in these cases to assess their comfort level. If it is not the best fit, there are other volunteer roles that provide meaningful services to patients and families.

There are many ways to get involved as a hospice volunteer

Longtime volunteers Richard and Sandy Geisler volunteer each Saturday at the inpatient center.

“Working at Hospice is our way of giving back to the community,” explains Richard. “Sandy is a beautician and often helps patients with haircuts and styles. We also visit patients and families and get them anything they need to make their time with us more comfortable. It is such a wonderful center that does good work for so many families. Everyone on staff cares and believes in what they are doing.”

Joyce Attie, a volunteer who experienced Hospice on a personal level when her husband passed away under their care. She describes her role at the center as a happy time.

“This is at the center of my life,” she describes. “I know firsthand what it is like as a family member. The loving care from nurses and volunteers is a comfort – to know that someone will simply spend time with them. Listening is often the most important skill for a volunteer. The Hospice program gave me support through their wonderful programs, I feel that I have a lot to offer others who can benefit from my insights.”


If you or a loved one is suffering from a life-limiting illness, visit our Hospice and Palliative Care page. And visit our volunteer page to learn more about how to be involved in end-of-life care.


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