The Public Health Emergency due to the Coronavirus was declared in late January 2020. Soon after, Medicare adjusted its regulations in an effort to help hospice agencies during this difficult time. The requirement that all hospices offer volunteer services was waived, along with several other exemptions. So officially, the Ardent Hospice volunteer program was shut down – and continues to be so today, in the Fall of 2021.
So, what has the volunteer team been doing for the last 18 months?
Initially, not much. At the very start of the pandemic, there was no alternative except to suspend visits. It happened so suddenly that few had time to explain to their assigned patient that visits would be interrupted for a while. With both the Ardent office and the patient facilities limiting outsiders’ visits, none of our volunteers were not able to engage.
Over the course of next several months, PPE became more readily available. Ardent was able to obtain masks, face shields, gloves and gowns and continues to maintain a robust supply. Several months later, the COVID vaccine became available. As healthcare workers, the Ardent staff was among the first to receive it. At that time at Ardent Healthcare, the vaccine was encouraged, not required, and most of the staff and volunteers elected to receive it.
At the beginning of 2021, we started to allow some administrative volunteers back into the office. They resumed the tasks of generating bereavement letters and assembling admission packets. In April, the office officially reopened. In June, our volunteers resumed “tuck-in calls,” friendly phone calls to our home patients on Fridays to make sure they have everything they need for the weekend. At the same time, we started a new “check in call” program, in which a volunteer calls the primary contact for patients living in facilities. She asks about their experience with hospice thus far and ensures that the lines of communication are open. Both callers report that they frequently receive effusive praise about how satisfied they are with Ardent, which makes for an enjoyable job.
The majority of Ardent’s volunteers are patient companions. A few of them continued their visits in spite of the shutdowns and the winter storm, but most stayed in the wings until it was safe to resume visits.
In the summer of 2021, the number of requests coming in from the team in the field started to increase as facilities allowed visitors back in. We found that many patient companion volunteers were ready to re-engage. Masked up and pre-screened before visits, they resumed their work, sitting at bedsides and helping to enrich people’s days.
In late July 2021, we hosted a New Volunteer Orientation with seven attendees. We met twice, with the Delta Variant entering the picture in between our meetings. By the end of the training, we were masked up and taking every precaution again. But we completed the training, and most of the new volunteers are actively working with patients or in our office.
It has been a series of starts and stops and we continue to adjust to the changes that come our way. In spite of serious obstacles, the volunteer program at Ardent Hospice is thriving and remains a benefit that sets us apart from other agencies. We will continue to help our patients and families in a variety of ways, with an eye to the safety of both patient and volunteer but always with a main focus of enhancing the quality of life.
For more information about volunteering in hospice, please call Nancy Krohn at 469-348-0683.