Out & About: Volunteers needed to assist with hospice care

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-05-2023 9:14 PM

NEW LONDON — Lake Sunapee Region VNA & Hospice is seeking volunteers to visit with patients who are receiving end-of-life care.

Those who are interested are required to take a 19-hour, seven-session training program, which will be held Thursday afternoons from Sept. 14 through Oct. 26 at the nonprofit organization’s office at 107 Newport Road. The first session will take place from 1 to 2 p.m.; all others will meet from 1 to 4 p.m. Registration is required by Aug. 31 by contacting volunteer manager Elizabeth Gantner at 603-748-2225 or egantner@lakesunapeevna.org.

The New London-based organization — which serves more than 30 towns in Grafton, Sullivan and Merrimack counties — currently has between eight to 10 volunteers and would like to have up to 20, Gantner said. Volunteers are required to undergo background checks. The training includes learning about state and federal hospice care regulations. It also focuses on how to talk about tough topics with patients.

“We will get pretty in depth and about death and dying,” Gantner said. “It’s really important to have someone in touch with their own thoughts and beliefs — and maybe even fears — so they’re self aware before they go to interact with someone who is at the end of their life.”

While some hospice volunteers have a background in health care, it is not a requirement and there is no particular skill set that is required. The qualities that are necessary include: empathy, compassion, the ability to be nonjudgmental and being a good listener.

“Sometimes just listening is the most important. We don’t solve problems for people,” Gantner said. “We’re a sounding board and we’re a human connection.”

Volunteers should have strong emotional intelligence and be able to focus on the needs of the patient without letting their own views get in the way.

“Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and meet them where they are at that moment and not try to move them somewhere else from where they are,” is important, Gantner said. “Religion ... plays a role only if it plays a role for the patient and their families.”

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Once volunteers complete training, they can be matched with a patient and their families. The time commitment can vary based on the patient and the volunteer’s availability. Matches are based on geography and shared interests, including hobbies. They might meet with patients at their homes or in specialized health care settings, such as nursing homes.

Volunteers are considered part of the Lake Sunapee VNA’s interdisciplinary care team, which includes medical providers as well as social workers and spiritual care advisers. Though rare, if a match isn’t a good fit, volunteers can be reassigned.

“Some of our hospice patients are isolated and sometimes the only person they might see is their caregiver,” Gantner said. “It definitely adds … some stimulation, some socialization and some fun to their lives.”

Sometimes relationships last a few weeks and others extend for months.

Hospice volunteers don’t just serve patients: They provide support for family members as well. That could include being a sounding board for caregivers or providing respite care so they can do errands, take a shower “or just have a breath of fresh air,” Gantner said.

And volunteers are far from alone: Gantner frequently checks in on hospice volunteers to make sure they are coping with tough topics.

“They’re provided with ongoing support,” she said.

While death can be difficult to navigate, volunteers often find moments of levity in their roles.

“They find so much joy and just have a sense of, they feel comfortable and empowered themselves and being able to get to know really wonderful patients and family members and listen to stories about their lives,” Gantner said. “I think most every volunteer would say that what they learn and take out of the experience feels like it must be more than what they’re actually giving. It’s a very fulfilling thing to do.”

Volunteers are also needed to assist with administrative tasks, the Good Day Respite program and at the Renaissance Shoppe, a thrift store that raises funds for the organization. Visit lakesunapeevna.org/giving/volunteer for more information. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.