With National Volunteer Week running from April 19 to April 25, Greater Trail hospice is recognizing their volunteers as the heart and backbone of hospice care every day throughout the year.
The recognition is part of the BC Hospice Palliative Care Association (BCHPCA) celebrating 3,600-or-so dedicated hospice volunteers who collectively support over 120,000 British Columbians annually with hospice palliative care.
Hospice care is an approach to care focused on the comfort and support of individuals and their loved ones during a serious illness, in the last stages of life, or while coping with grief.
Through a range of services, hospices help their clients achieve the best quality of life possible by addressing their emotional, social, spiritual, and practical needs.
“Hospice volunteers receive comprehensive training with over 30 hours of initial basic training and an additional 20 hours of work specific development annually,” explains Pablita Thomas, BCHPCA executive director.
“With only 350 full-time staff employed by B.C. hospice societies, skilled volunteers are critical to the delivery of quality palliative care and educational support programs offered by hospices.”
Hospice volunteer retention rates are high, with the general length of engagement lasting over seven years.
Volunteerism for the delivery of hospice care is unique, as the majority of services are coming from the heart of communities.
This model of compassionate care supports a greater palliative care initiative in which B.C. hospices are greatly entrenched.
“Hospice volunteers are the essence of hospice palliative care providing companionship, self-care training, respite care for caregivers, vigil sitting, Advance Care Planning sessions, and practical support such as light housekeeping or preparing snacks,” describes Donna Flood, BCHPCA president. “Our volunteers also provide operational support by assisting with administration, raising awareness, and fundraising; key to the survival of hospice societies.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a huge challenge to all aspects of life, including hospice care.
With restrictions in place, hospices have not been able to fully engage existing or new volunteers. In Greater Trail, pre-pandemic, hospice training sessions were typically held over several days each fall in the Kiro Wellness Centre.
Although hospice volunteers in other provinces have been deemed essential, the majority of those in B.C. and the Yukon have not yet been prioritized to allow them the choice of vaccination.
“Without volunteers, there is a huge void in the support provided to patients and families who are experiencing greater distress, missing connection and family due to isolation and trained hospice volunteers play an integral role. By providing a listening ear, companionship, a healing presence, sitting vigil and practical support,” says Natasha Girard, BCHPCA board director.
“There is comfort in having accessible community support to help normalize one’s journey. It’s intangible, yet so important to the quality of life and care of these people.”
Hospice volunteers are ready to get back to supporting their communities, but policy restrictions are not allowing them to perform the work they love.
An aging demographic is putting further strain on the country’s healthcare system.
By 2031 more than 1.3 million British Columbians, or almost one in four people, will be over the age of 65 (2021).
“Through the pandemic and as our population continues to age, hospice volunteers are becoming increasingly vital to supporting our communities, while simultaneously easing the burden on our healthcare system,” explains Colleen Erickson, First Nations Health Authority Director of BCHPCA.
During National Volunteer Week from April 19 to 25, communities are asked to acknowledge and honour the importance of hospice volunteers and the selfless work they provide to towns and cities across British Columbia.