It seems like an incredibly tall order to fill. Hospice volunteers the world over do it selflessly on a daily basis. They give of their time, talents, and expertise. Sometimes they just hold a hand or listen. They do whatever they are asked to by individuals and their families during a life-threatening illness or injury.

There are more than 80 such volunteers, from all walks of life, at Hospice of Lake Cumberland. The non-profit organization serves Pulaski, Russell, Casey, Wayne, McCreary, Clinton, and Cumberland Counties.

The way Fred Chambers and his wife Patti, who have volunteered together for more than a year explain it, “You’ve got to meet people where they are.”

Laura Kamperman, director of community relations, adds, “There is no cookie cutter approach in Hospice.”

Each individual, each illness, each family, is treated with the same amount of care and dignity. What Hospice does for each family is unique for that family and patient, based on their needs and wishes. Hospice is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“When you meet a new friend,” Kamperman simplifies, “You just learn about them.”

In fact, many families have made lifelong friends in their Hospice volunteers.

Marilyn Miller, a volunteer for more than nine years, recalls a family member she helped more than six years ago. “We still have lunch together,” she smiles.

Many choose to volunteer at Hospice because of their own experiences with Hospice during the loss of a loved one.

Pat Taylor lost her husband 13 years ago. She was living in Texas at the time, with no relatives nearby.

“Hospice became my family,” Pat said.

Her Hospice experience in dealing with the loss of her life partner caused her to want to become a Hospice volunteer herself. She has been doing so for 12 years.

Hospice had taken care of Fred Chambers’ father and Patti Chambers’ brother. Patti said witnessing not only the care hospice provided for her brother, but also seeing how supportive Hospice was for her sister-in-law, factored into her and Fred becoming volunteers themselves.

Together, the Chambers have helped people in fulfilling their last wishes.

“One patient wanted to be baptized,” Fred recalls. Another wanted to be sure he had a will so his wife would be taken care of after he passed away.

Volunteers have helped find new homes for beloved family pets, have assisted with funeral arrangements, have held many hands, and have simply listened.

“Volunteers help with things you shouldn’t have to worry about so you can enjoy your loved ones,” Kamperman adds.

Pat Taylor said with her experience in losing her husband, having a Hospice volunteer help her with the funeral arrangements also assisted in preparing her for life without her husband.

“They are so appreciative for even the little things you do for them,” Patti says.

Ask Fred or Patti, or any of the other Hospice volunteers, and they will tell you, “It is not about us.”

They see their volunteer work as an opportunity to help people move on.

About half the Hospice cases in the Lake Cumberland area are cancer patients. Many have Alzheimer's Disease or COPD. Not all of them are older people. Volunteers have worked with young and old, parents and children. Some patients have been in nursing homes while others have been at home.

Marilyn has seen teenagers trying to care for their ill parents. Volunteers have also seen parents caring for ill children. Volunteers doing something as simple as preparing a meal for the family can oftentimes ease the burden.

Kamperman says the stigma of a Hospice patient being bed ridden or homebound just isn’t so. Many Hospice patients have good days when they are able to get outside and enjoy life.

The key to having a respite from the bad days is calling Hospice sooner rather than later.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates that for every one hospice patient, there are two more who could benefit from hospice services. The Medicare Hospice Benefit guarantees comprehensive high-quality end-of-life care at little or no cost to America’s terminally ill Medicare beneficiaries and their families.

“If you don’t need us, we won’t take time from your day,” Volunteer Coordinator Deborah Emerson says.

Hospice works closely with a patient’s personal physician, RNs, LPNs, social workers, home care aids, chaplains, therapists, nutritionists, and a host of other local service providers.

Some volunteers choose to offer their time at the Hospice office building. Wanda Hudson, for instance, is retired and has lost both her parents.

“There’s a type of ministry there,” Wanda says of helping with all the necessary filing at the Hospice office.

“It’s an opportunity to pray for the deceased,” she says, while she files final paperwork for a patient who has died.

In some cases, a patient may have an occasional need for a Hospice volunteer. Some will go weekly or twice a week. Some will just play cards with the patient or perhaps call them on the telephone to offer moral support.

“You’re doing a good job when they don’t want you to leave,” Fred says of Hospice patients whom he helps.

Zora Lee Wilson says she often feels better herself after visiting with a patient. Like Kamperman said, it’s like visiting with a friend you have gotten to know.

Caring about what you think

Hospice of Lake Cumberland conducts two surveys with patients and their families to find out how they are doing and if the family is satisfied with their services.

The first survey is a telephone interview after the first two weeks Hospice begins working with a family. It gives Hospice workers an opportunity to assess if there is anything else they could be doing to assist the family.

The second is a written survey, conducted by an outside agency after the services are no longer needed. Families completing surveys during the last quarter of this year, stated unamimously they felt they were treated with respect by their Hospice workers.

In fact, surveys revealed that on a local level, the percentage of excellent ratings outnumbered the national ratings by seven percent.

Kamperman says between 40 and 50 patients were seen on a daily basis by Hospice of Lake Cumberland in 2004. Now that number can be anywhere from 80 to 100 per day.

Becoming a Volunteer

At Hospice of Lake Cumberland, potential volunteers undergo two four-hour training sessions based upon the Hospice model of care and the team approach. Training sessions are conducted each spring and fall at the seven county offices Hospice of Lake Cumberland serves.

Volunteers can choose from a huge variety of areas in which to donate their time.

Prior to becoming a volunteer, criminal background checks are conducted, in addition to an application form which is reviewed annually, and three written references are required.

On the local level, many volunteers are retirees wanting to do something productive and helpful with their time. There are several husband-wife teams who volunteer together.

Kamperman said a teen volunteer group, for those 14 and older, will be starting soon. Teens can make door decorations for homes, prepare food boxes for the holidays, and participate in a host of other helpful activities.

Receiving Hospice care

Anyone can make a referral to Hospice. You may even call for yourself.

Hospice will ask permission to speak with a patient’s primary care physician who will advise if Hospice is appropriate for that patient.

Sometimes a patient will ask his or her physician to make a referral for them.

Kamperman stresses that Hospice care is not just about medical issues. Hospice is there to offer emotional and spiritual support as well.

“We can help with living wills. You can make choices about the care you want and don’t want.”

Kamperman sees planning for the end of life through living wills and advance care planning as a gift to your loved ones, to reassure them and let them know what it is you want.

On January 1, 2007, Hospice of Lake Cumberland will celebrate 20 years of serving patients in our region. For more information about Hospice or volunteering, call Hospice of Lake Cumberland at 606-679-4389. General information about Hospice can be found on the Internet at:

What families are

saying about Hospice

In a 2005 survey, conducted by an outside performance management company, families assisted by Hospice had overwhelmingly positive comments about their experience. The most common comment: “I wish we had called sooner.”

In the survey, Hospice of Lake Cumberland scored 94 percent satisfaction in overall quality of care. Coordination of care scored 92 percent, while attending to family needs scored 91 percent. Information about symptoms had a 96 percent overall satisfaction rating.

Actual family comments

“I felt so relieved to have Hospice come in, do pain management and help me with my feelings of inadequacy. I felt she (mom) was in good hands and I had confidence in the team.”

“We requested Hospice on Saturday and the nurse and chaplain came that day. Dad was moved into the Hospice suite about 20 minutes before his death. Our family will always appreciate the quick response because my aunts, uncles, cousins and dad’s immediate family all got to be with him at his death. Without the suite, everyone could not have gotten to be in the room.”

“Everyone was well equipped to handle our problems and give expert advice and help. We grew to love and appreciate you all.”

“The relief I felt when they admitted my mother was unbelievable. I had someone I could call for anything. My only regret is she was in Hospice such a short time.”

“Hospice helped us feel that we were not alone, but could contact them at any time.”

“The staff was very efficient and informative on what we could expect. For the short amount of time they were here, they did a most excellent job. Much thanks.”

“I think Hospice is the greatest thing anyone could want or ask for at this time of need. They were so open and kind to me at the time of my mother’s illness and death. I thank God there are people like Hospice. Thanks so very much.”

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