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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Michigan Hospice Volunteers: A Documentary (Audio)

Hospice Chronicles: Care for the Patient and Family is an audio documentary produced by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister of Long Haul Productions. It follows two southwest Michigan hospice volunteers who have completed their volunteer training and are visiting their first patients. Because their patients live at home, I listened with a focus on similarities and differences between their hospice volunteering and my own in Detroit nursing homes.

Volunteer Joe Haase essentially provides respite (relief) for caregiver Betty Bennett, whose husband Preston has Parkinson’s disease and early-stage dementia. Respite care gives her time away from home to do errands and take a break from the pressures of caregiving. Betty sounds overwhelmed with meeting Preston’s needs, but she continues to keep him at home because she promised him she would.

While people don’t generally think of hospice volunteers in nursing homes as providers of respite for staff, we are. More than once, I have had a frazzled and overworked nurse aide say she was glad I was there to feed my hospice patients who needed assistance. If my patients happened to be eating at a table with several other patients, it was not unusual for me to monitor their feeding, as well. Mealtimes can be extremely busy at an understaffed nursing home when many patients need assistance at the same time.

In the second documentary scenario, volunteer Betty Elsas visits patient Mamie Matthews, who is 97 years old and slowly deteriorating. Because Betty has a healthcare background, she mentions how visiting a patient “cold,” with little information, puts her at a disadvantage.

When I am assigned a new patient, I receive a form with minimal patient information such as name, age, religion, illness and caregiver. Probably because it’s all I’ve ever had, I adjusted easily. Like Betty, there were a few times I wanted to know more, for example, hobbies. These were times with patients who had difficulty communicating or who had paid guardians who knew little about their backgrounds.

I think hospice volunteers would find these conversations interesting for discussion, along with commentary from seasoned volunteers with residential and nursing home experience. The audio documentary can be heard at www.npr.org Hospice Chronicles: Care for the Patient and Family.


Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.