Hospice Volunteer

Last Updated: August 27, 2020

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What is a hospice volunteer?

Hospice volunteers provide useful services for patients, families, as well as hospice office and outreach tasks. All hospice providers are required by Medicare to recruit hospice volunteers.

What do you do as a hospice volunteer?

Hospice volunteers fulfill a number of roles. Each hospice that has volunteers decide what these dedicated people will do. Here is a list of possibilities:

  • Offer support for patients: This does not usually include hands-on care. You are most likely going to be a companion, keeping a person company by doing something they wish to do. It may include reading, playing cards, or writing letters to friends and family.
  • Provide respite and a helping hand for family members: Caring for someone who is terminally ill is physically and emotionally stressful. You relieve some of that burden by doing light household chores or cooking a meal. Perhaps a family will ask you to run errands or sit with their loved one while they step out for time for themselves.
  • Support the bereavement program: This usually includes a counseling staff who offer support groups and individual pastoral care for the hospice patient and loved ones. Volunteers give the program a hand by baking refreshments for group meetings and helping out with mailings. Some programs encourage volunteers to continue to visit a family after their loved one has passed as part of bereavement care.
  • Offer special services, such as music and pet therapy: These can bring comfort and sometimes welcome amusement for patients and their families. Examples of other special services are massage therapy, reiki or therapeutic touch, and helping with children.
  • Routine tasks around the office: Hospices welcome volunteers who will help with these tasks includes giving a hand with mailings, attending community events, pitching in with fundraising, or doing light groundskeeping.

What makes a good hospice volunteer?

As you can tell from the variety of volunteer options, being a good hospice volunteer can work out for a lot of people. The qualities that matter the most are compassion, patience, flexibility, dedication, and being a good listener. Here’s why each is important, regardless of the volunteer role you choose:

  • Compassion means so much to patients, their families and friends, and hospice staff. They all appreciate someone who is nonjudgmental and accepting of different people and families.
  • Patience is key because it can mean doing things in ways you are not used to. Like cooking and cleaning according to someone else’s routine. Or when a family member is running late doing errands while you provide companionship for their loved one.
  • Flexibility may mean that your schedule changes because of a family’s needs. Or a volunteer meeting that is moved to another day.
  • Dedication shows that you are committed to caring for those in the final days of their life. You honor that families are letting you into their lives. This is a vulnerable time for them. They depend on volunteers for the consistency they bring during days of uncertainty.
  • Being a good listener and observer is often the biggest gift you bring as a hospice volunteer. Patients and families need someone they can trust. Someone who doesn’t give unwanted advice. Staff sometimes rely on volunteers to share observations, such as a patient who is beginning to refuse beverages.

How do you become a hospice volunteer?

Each hospice has a volunteer coordinator whose job it is to recruit and provide training and support for people who volunteer. To become a volunteer you will:

  • Get in touch with any of the hospice organizations in your area. Ask for the person in charge of volunteers.
  • Most likely be asked to give permission for a background check. This is to assure that you are someone who is safe to volunteer and visit other people’s homes.
  • Perhaps be asked to provide driver’s license and car insurance information. This applies when you are transporting yourself or a patient as part of your voluntary activities.
  • Participate in hospice orientation and training that is typically 25 to 30 hours. This is to help you prepare for the challenges and special situations that can arise when caring for those who are dying.

What are the benefits of being a hospice volunteer?

Some people become hospice volunteers because of the care they received when their loved one passed. This is an example of giving back, one of the benefits of being a hospice volunteer. Others include:

  • Gaining a deepened appreciation of life. You learn the meaning and value of sitting silently holding a dying person’s hand. Or the peace one gains from reading cards and notes to someone who is dying.
  • Becoming more open-minded and accepting by sharing in other people’s lives. They witness strength, fragility, humor, and emotions. They hear moving stories, many that include a family’s history. Because of this volunteers become much more in touch with their own humanity.
  • The meaning of giving back to the community. Volunteers feel a close connection with the families they get to know. This makes volunteers deeply aware that giving their time turns into receiving satisfaction because of what they’ve done.

How can I find a hospice to volunteer with near me?

To locate a hospice near you:

  • Enter your zip code on Medicare’s Find a Hospice page. Call the hospices you are interested in and ask for the volunteer coordinator or person in charge of their volunteers.
  • Go to the Area Agencies on Aging Eldercare Locator and enter your zip code. You can then call and request information about nearby hospices.
  • Check in with your primary healthcare provider’s office as they are likely familiar with hospices in your area.

Are hospice providers required to use volunteers by Medicare?

Yes, Medicare requires that all hospice providers use volunteers for a minimum of 5 percent of total patient care hours. This rule was put in place to keep hospice care a community oriented healthcare program.

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