11th Hour Volunteers: A Supportive Presence in the Final Hours of Life

One basic value of hospice care is that no one should die alone without support or the presence of loved ones. In addition to caring for the patient, the loved ones of hospice patients deserve and benefit from support as well. Eleventh-hour volunteers are trained to keep vigil and provide that supportive presence to patients and families in the final hours of life.

What is an eleventh-hour volunteer?

Oftentimes, patients find themselves alone during their last days because they have limited or no family close-by. These trained volunteers are able to fill in when a loved one cannot or when a family members need a break or support for themselves during this time by offering warmth, compassion, concern and a healing touch. Simply offering gestures like sitting with the patient and/or family, holding hands, praying or sharing in silence make a world of difference during such a difficult time.

Premier Hospice & Home Health in Phoenix, AZ provides these services for our patients. After 12 hours of face-to-face training in the classroom, in addition to the standard volunteer training that is required, our eleventh-hour volunteers leave well-prepared and ready to offer their supportive services. This unique service is offered around the clock and it does not matter the location – in private homes, assisted living facilities, or group homes – our volunteers will be there.

How our program started:

In 2015, one nurse was discussing with coworkers about a patient’s family where the husband/father was dying. She explained that the wife was with him and the adult children had flown in with their families as well. Because of the patient’s last wish being to die at home, the family was distraught and constantly bickering over who knew best for him. In addition, none of the family had slept because they wanted to be there when he died and make sure they were meeting all his needs.

In response to her story, one of the nurse’s coworkers, Laura Ehmann, offered a suggestion – that they have a volunteer sit there and be with the family and patient during the final hours. They sent two volunteers, to sit in two 8-hour shifts, so that the family could rest. One volunteer explained,

“I made make-shift beds in the living room for the family. I had to be firm with them and promise to wake them if anything changed. Six hours into my shift, I noticed the patient’s breathing change. I woke the family up and everyone was able to sit on the edge, well rested, and be present with him while he took his last breath like they wanted.”

Driving home that morning, the volunteer realized that there needed to be something more to what she just did. As a result, Laura took the next nine months to write a training manual for eleventh-hour volunteers. This way, the volunteers are more prepared for similar situations in the future.

Our program now:

Now, Premier Hospice and Home Health offers 14 eleventh-hour volunteers. Some have even been with the program since its beginning.  These volunteers make a difference in the lives of their patients’ families. As one patient put it,

“I do not know how I would have made it through the night

if my volunteer had not been there for me.”

These volunteers continue to make an impact on patients and their families as they pass through hospice care. In November of 2016, Premier Hospice & Home Health was awarded the 2015 Excellence in End-of-Life Care award honoring services that go above and beyond. Our dedication to ensuring these volunteers are educated and prepared offers families the quality experience they expect and deserve from us.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming an eleventh-hour volunteer, please contact Laura Ehmann at (602) 274-7572 or laura.ehmann@premierhospiceaz.com.

 

P.s. Be on the lookout for our next 11th Hour Volunteer articles featuring our volunteers and their journeys with this program!