Scotch Plains, N.J.-based Center for Hope Hospice & Palliative Care recently established a specialized volunteer program to support patients in their final hours. The hospice dubbed the program the 11th Hour Volunteers.
Nurses call in these volunteers when they perceive that a patient is in the process of actively dying. Often the calls come when a patient has no family caregivers, though at times the families themselves request the additional support.
After receiving the call, the 11th hour volunteer (or a team of volunteers, depending on the circumstances) conducts a home visit and offers assistance to the patient and family that could include household tasks, sitting with the patient, reading to the patient and other services.
“A number of volunteers expressed interest in assisting our patients at the critical moment,” Stacey Kaplan, volunteer coordinator at Center for Hope, told Hospice News. “Their desire to go above and beyond as volunteers prompted discussions that determined the need was more than sufficient to develop an actual program.”
The 11th Hour teams receive weeks of extensive, specialized training that goes beyond standard hospice volunteer training, including in-person meetings, reading, and discussions of religious or cultural rituals and expectations associated with death, family dynamics as well as the physiological aspects of the dying process among other topics.
In addition to initial education, the 11th hour volunteers meet monthly to share lessons learned in the field and offer the mutual support and encouragement that people who work with the dying often need.
All Center for Hope patients become eligible for the program after they enter the active dying phase. Staff visit patients in their homes as well as in the hospice’s two inpatient facilities.
Critical to the program is the hospice’s ability to identify patients who are in their last days.
“Due to our unique Patient Response System in which the center uses an awake, on-site, full-time nurse to respond to patient issues no matter what time of the day or night, we do not encounter barriers to increasing visit frequency for all disciplines,” Kaplan said. “During a crisis, our nurses, social workers, home health aides, and all associated staff and volunteers are trained to identify signs of transition and required to alert our treatment team immediately.”