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Volunteers Are Key Team Members at Seasons Hospice

West Bend Daily News 02/25/2014, Page A02

For the Daily News

Sue Williams doesn’t think of her volunteer commitment as work; instead, it’s a chance to visit with friends.

“It’s something I look forward to,” she said. “I never think, ‘oh, no, I have to go do that again.’” Given Mother Nature’s lack of compassion this winter, Williams would have a few reasons to grumble.

Every week or two she drives from her home in Brookfield to West Bend, where she visits two patients of Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care.

Volunteers are a key part of a Seasons’ patient’s circle of care, said Karen Williams, Seasons volunteer manager and Sue’s daughter. The team also includes a medical director, attending physician, social worker, chaplain, music therapist, home health aide and registered nurse.

“The volunteers are not paid, but they are definitely no less important,” Karen Williams said. “In many cases, the volunteers have a special bond with the patients because they are there as friends, not caregivers. Patients sometimes tell volunteers things that no one else knows.” The volunteers’ role is to provide companionship and support as well as non-medical services including writing letters and occasional errands. Their most important responsibility is to be present.

“I’m there as a friend,” Sue Williams said. “I listen to whatever they want to talk about and to engage them if they feel like it. I’m not there to answer questions or give medical advice, I’m just there to visit and to let them know that people care.”

Other volunteers take on an indirect patient role, helping with administrative tasks and special projects.

Those projects can be done from the volunteer’s home.

All patients have been placed on hospice care as a result of a terminal diagnosis, Karen Williams said.

Some are in long-term care facilities, others are in private homes. Some are very communicative, others prefer to be read to or listen to music. All have asked to have a volunteer assigned to them and all are matched with whom they will be a good match, Karen Williams said. Volunteers are required to submit reports after each visit that will become part of the patient’s records. The reports detail the visit’s activities and general observations about the patient.

Before being matched with one or more patient, volunteers are screened and trained. Seasons is based in West Allis, but serves patients from Kenosha County to Washington, Fond du Lac and Ozaukee counties. Volunteers can designate the distance they would travel to see a patient — which can range from walking distance to many miles — and are asked to see a patient at least once a month. Most opt to visit more frequently because they enjoy it.

“I never call them my patients,” Sue Williams said. “I call them my friends. I’ll tell my husband that I’m going to go see my little friends today, and I always feel so happy after I do it.”

Depending on the patient’s diagnosis, the relationship can range from weeks to significantly longer. Sue Williams has been seeing her two West Bend patients for seven months, while her husband has had three patients die.

All volunteers are given bereavement training and support, and nearly all take on new patients.

Seasons currently has 31 volunteers and could use many more, particularly in Washington and Ozaukee counties, Karen Williams said. Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer should call Karen Williams at (414) 203-8310 or email kwilliams@ seasons.org.

“It’s something I look forward to. I never think, ‘oh, no, I have to go do that again.’”

– Sue Williams on her volunteer work at Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care