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Volunteers Needed for Companionship Visits at Middlesex Hospital

Published Sep 13, 2017 • Last Updated 02:48 pm, September 12, 2017

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Middlesex Hospital, Hospice, and Palliative Care is seeking volunteers to be part of its outreach to patients and families coping with terminal illness. Volunteers act as companions to both homecare and nursing home patients, as well as provide bereavement support to families after loss.

Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Jaclyn Thurnauer Orlowski said that volunteers play an important role at Middlesex Hospital, Hospice, and Palliative Care.

“Generally, volunteers spend time reading to patients or watching movies or TV, just talking with them. If it’s possible, they take them outside in wheelchairs or in walkers. This is especially true in the nursing homes where it’s not always possible for the staff to do that,” she said.

“We try to wrap our arms around [patients], and make sure that they feel supported and know that if they do need help, they know where to get it. This is a one-time opportunity, one chance to create a positive experience around death. It is a sacred time, a privilege to be with them at a vulnerable time in their lives. It allows them to be a part of something bigger.”

All volunteers must complete a 12-hour training course, offered twice a year, with the next session on Saturdays, Oct. 21 and 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Potential participants must submit an application including a signed doctor’s form, and must be aged 18 years or older. The training is more intensive than general hospital volunteer training and, following completion, graduates shadow experienced volunteers in the hospice unit for another 12 hours. Finally, all new participants meet with the volunteer coordinator to determine the location of their position.

There are many volunteer assignment options including the hospice unit at Middlesex Hospital, supporting nurses and families as well as the patients; homecare visits; and visits to nursing homes. Volunteers also call caregivers to check on supply needs, stay in contact with bereaved families, and plan an annual service of remembrance.

Homecare and nursing home visits are primarily concerned with providing companionship; it is these volunteers that are especially in demand at Middlesex Hospital, Hospice, and Palliative Care.

“Homecare and nursing home volunteers are strictly companions,” said Thurnauer Orlowski. “After volunteers have gone through training, they’re sent an email with anonymous patient descriptions. It’s not randomly assigned; they get a choice. If they feel like there is a connection, we want that. We also try to match people close to where they live.

Thurnauer Orlowski said the volunteer schedules are very flexible and the organization is seeking more homecare and nursing home volunteers, particularly in rural areas and across the shoreline.

“The nursing homes can be a good option for people who work full time, but want to volunteer as they can stop by on their way home from work,” said. “We are also looking for more men, and always for more veterans to volunteer.”

Volunteers are asked to commit approximately four hours per week for a full year. For those providing bereavement support, it is a commitment of 13 months of phone calls and letters to a family from a single volunteer with varied amount of contact.

Thurnauer Orlowski noted that many volunteers have themselves experienced bereavement, and want to create that support for someone else, and to pass on that empathetic experience. The organization requests that people who have recently experienced a major loss wait a year to volunteer, allowing themselves time to grieve.

“It is a great team to be a part of,” said Thurnauer Orlowski. “We encourage people to reach out and inquire about it if they are not sure if it is right for them.”

First Congregational Church of Deep River Office Manager Kris Lindner has volunteered with Middlesex Hospital, Hospice, and Palliative Care for four years.

“It was something in the back of my mind for a while, and the volunteer coordinator sent the notice for the church bulletin at the right time in my life,” said Lindner.

“The seed was planted about 30 years ago when my mother was sick with cancer. She was in a convalescent home and my father and I had a meeting scheduled with the hospice. She died two days later, but even though she was never actually in hospice, the hospice was in contact with us after she passed away. They keep in contact with the families for a year after a loss. It is nice to know someone is thinking of you,” she said.

Volunteering has been a positive experience for Lindner and she encourages interested people to get involved.

“You don’t need any specific skills, just an interest, and compassion for people at the end of their lives and their families,” she said. “People don’t want to talk about death, but it has made me more comfortable with it. It is rewarding to touch people at that part of their lives.”

The next Middlesex Hospital, Hospice, and Palliative Care volunteer training session is on Saturdays, Oct. 21 and 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information and an application packet, contact Jaclyn Thurnauer Orlowski at 860-358-6955 or Jaclyn.thurnauer@midhosp.org.

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