A Hand from Hospice

April 1, 2008 | By More

Story by Dianne Edwards

They run errands for an ill patient, they do yard work, they pick up a few groceries… and sometimes they hold the hand of someone as they draw their last breath.

Volunteers serving with the Arkansas Department of Health Hospice are many things to many people. Described as angels by some, friends by others, these generous individuals give what others may not — the chance for an individual to spend their last days surrounded by the familiarity of home and family.

Malana Shumaker of Pottsville, and her late husband Donald, were two such “angels.” Malana, originally from Houston, spent her career years as an accountant for two different firms. Originally from Houston she returned with her husband to live on the family farm in his hometown of Pottsville. The couple volunteered with hospice beginning in 1996.

Together, the Shumakers continued their work with hospice because it “was warm and fuzzy. It makes you feel good, helping others with life’s most difficult journeys,” explained Mrs. Shumaker. They served as one of a few volunteer couples until he became ill in 1998. Then, hospice became very personal for Malana.

With her husband’s illness, she became the recipient of services — returning later as a volunteer to once again ‘give back to others.’ She currently assists hospice with in-office needs.

Glenda Luter is one of three original volunteer coordinators that began with the Arkansas Department of Health Hospice in 1992. She shares her responsibilities with another volunteer coordinator, Marian Henderson. Their responsibilities include recruiting and retaining volunteers, arranging continuing education, needs assessment of patients, assigning volunteers to patients and supervising those assignments, and lastly, coming up with fund-raising ideas to benefit the program and meet unfunded needs.

They arrange training sessions for the volunteers, reviewing philosophies, roles, responsibilities and duties of the hospice volunteer. On the 4th Monday of each month, they arrange continuing education classes geared to the needs of the volunteer.

The pair is responsible for educating the community about the hospice program. This can often include giving speeches to civic and religious organizations, manning booths at the county fairs and distributing flyers to area churches. As part of the Northwest Regional Office originating from Russellville, their efforts cover eight local counties and offices. They include Conway, Faulkner, Johnson, Logan/Booneville, Logan/Paris, Perry, Pope, Scott, Yell/ Dardanelle and Yell/Danville.

The Division of Health Hospice is truly a non-profit program, offering care regardless of an individuals ability to pay. They are part of the Arkansas Division of Heath and have an average of one nurse to every six to eight patients. They offer local, licensed social workers that can be assigned to each patient as needed.

A common misconception is that hospice is only for “end-of-life” care but that is not true, said Luter. She recalled one patient that entered hospice care, improved, then was released to live on her own again. This happened three times before the 90-plus- year-old woman passed away.

That woman was the grandmother of Paula Lowe, another hospice volunteer.

Despite her job as business manager for Pottsville Schools, Paula still finds volunteering an extremely rewarding responsibility. She has been a regular volunteer since 2003.

Patient confidentiality is an absolute must. Luter explains: “I’ve had people say, ‘I saw you at so-and-so’s house, are they ill?’ and my pat answer has always been: ‘I’m sure they’d love for you to call and check on them.’”

“Even before the HIPA laws, we respected the rights and privacy of those under our care,” she explained.

Lowe acknowledged the privacy issue.

“I sat with a patient for two-and-a-half years and even my husband, Mel, didn’t know who it was. We never discussed the situation. If I left to volunteer with someone, he always knew I was doing something important and would be with ‘my patient.’”

Different Times, Different Needs

People enter the program at different stages and have different needs.

“We prefer for the family members to bond with the caregiver while their patient is still living,” said Luter.

“Not everyone needs all of our available services,” she added. “We offer a variety of services but they pick and choose what they need.”

While one family may need care during a loved one’s last days, other families may not enter the program until the bereavement period has already begun. A volunteer will be assigned to the family as long as they want assistance, often for at least a year.

Luter calls it a “basket of services” from which they may pick and choose and “put back” when a certain service is no longer needed. “It depends on what they need or want,” she adds. Available are home- based care, nursing home care, respite care and acute hospital care through those individuals and services associated with ADHH Heath Hospice.

Referrals may come from a social worker, a nurse or physician, hospital discharge personnel, a family friend or through personal request.

The Arkansas Department of Health Hospice, through its volunteer coordinators, maintains a roster of volunteers. Each completes a questionnaire determining service locale and ability to travel. If Luter does not have a suitable local volunteer, she will call one who is willing to travel. From the list of 55 to 60 volunteers, Luter says she accepts only two answers when calling to serve a family.

“Those answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I know they have lives and needs of their own. Some need a break now and then, and it’s perfectly fine, whatever their response,” said Luter.

The length of time a volunteer spends with a patient varies from two to 24 hours, depending on the situation and the amount of time a volunteer is willing to give.

There is little volunteer turn-over, said Luter. “These individuals become our family and friends. I’ve made so many friends over the past 15 years. Our volunteers are the cream of the crop.”

The volunteer coordinators meet every two weeks for a networking Inter- Disciplinary Group discussion where needs are identified and discussed. Joining them is Dr. Stan Bradley, Russellville physician who serves as the ADHH medical director.

“Dr. Bradley is one of the very few physicians in the state to be Board Certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine,” said Luter.

“He is an expert in pain control and is available to our nurses and a patient’s physicians to help in their care.”

The hospice team from all eight counties attend and may include registered nurses from the local health unit who are specially trained in Hospice, nurses aides who are skilled in end-of-life care, licensed social workers who care for the emotional needs of their patients and assist them in finding financial resources, and trained Chaplains.

“There are so many indirect ways for individuals to volunteer besides sitting with a patient. We have so many needs — office work, computer needs, someone to put together a newsletter… maybe someone to help make our fair boards,” outlined Luter. “We are willing to accept any amount of time someone is willing to give.”

Although the volunteer coordinators are officially “in the office” two or three days per week, Luter said they are available 24/7 by cell phone.

“Our volunteers are very important to us. They are very giving of their time, and I want them to know they can call me anytime.”

Luter says she tries to give back to the volunteers in small ways, such as taking them to lunch on their birthday. As a whole, the volunteers are honored with certificates and recognition following National Volunteer month each April.

For additional information on the ADHH Health Hospice Program, call (479) 968-4177, ext. 141, or visit their office at 404 North El Paso, Russellville.

 

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