Just hold my hand: The gift volunteers give to patients

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Volunteers give freely of their time and expertise to enhance patients’ lives. But last year the need surfaced at St. Joseph’s Health Care London to increase the satisfaction level of volunteers with their assignments, and of staff members with the volunteers in their areas.

A task team led by Deb Wiltshire, Director of Veterans Care and Trina Smith, Volunteer Services Coordinator, used LEAN principles to find solutions that gave volunteers clear direction to help them truly engage with patients and care providers in Palliative Care at Parkwood Hospital. “Reviewing the volunteer engagement process was a very moving experience for me,” says Trina. “By coming together with palliative care staff members we created a better care experience for patients and more support for volunteers.”

Now that the new process has rolled out in palliative care, volunteers have a one-day orientation workshop, and receive direction on expectations of their work with patients and family members.  Resource materials are available for them to learn about palliative care. A binder on the unit has a photo and profile of the unit’s volunteers so staff can get to know them, and a schedule of who is volunteering each day. When volunteers finish their shifts they jot down notes for the next volunteers on duty to help them engage with patients in a meaningful way, and volunteers have a representative at weekly team rounds.

The palliative care volunteers also attend a workshop on how to focus their time. “At the end of their lives, patients often just need someone with the time to be present, to comfort, to reassure, and to hold their hand,” says social worker Andrew Feron. “This is the biggest gift volunteers bring to our patients.”

“I don’t know if volunteers understand the vast impact they have,” says Palliative Care coordinator Dave Goddard. “Having a person with the time to listen to patients relieves the moral distress of staff members who are sometimes too busy to spend the kind of time they’d like to with patients.”

“Enhancing the patient experience through the volunteer engagement project has led to an incredible increase in quality volunteer coverage,” says Dave. “They are as important as any member of our team.”