Newell thanks Hospice by volunteering

November 23, 2005|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town who you recognize but don't know anything about. People like...

Colleen Newell

Age: 62

Hometown: Beaver Dam, Wis.

Where would you see Newell? Newell, who worked as a special-education teacher, retired when she and her husband, Tom, moved to Hagerstown 10 years ago. She knew once she retired that she wanted to do volunteer work and chose to give her time to Hospice of Washington County.

Her mother had "wonderful" hospice care in Wisconsin when she was dying of leukemia and Newell wanted to give back in the same way.

In her 10 years as a volunteer, she has been on the board of directors and worked as a patient-care volunteer. Patient-care volunteers are assigned a family to work with and help as needed, whether providing a break for the caregiver, helping run errands, doing light chores or simply providing companionship. They usually visit weekly, committing two to four hours a week to the family.


Hospice care is still misunderstood by many in the community, Newell said. Its goal is to provide comfort care - pain and symptom management - for dying patients, allowing them to die at home.

Many family members contact hospice when their loved one is near death, but hospice workers would prefer to be contacted at least six months prior to that. The longer time frame offers more time for developing a relationship with the family and patient.

Besides caring for the patient, hospice also provides support for the caregiver. Respite care - allowing the family member or friend who is caring for the patient to have a break - is an important element of the program.

As patients reach the end of their lives, they often go through a "life review." Recalling good memories, as well as painful ones, allows for closure and in some cases can bring emotional healing if past hurts are resolved.

"They tell you stuff they wouldn't ordinarily tell family," Newell said.

She added that family members often don't want to talk about dying with their family member, instead denying that death is imminent. By letting the family members know what to expect, the hospice team also can ease their discomfort with the death process.

They also offer bereavement services for up to 13 months after the hospice patient dies.

November is National Hospice Month and Hospice of Washington County is celebrating its 25th year. In addition to patient-care volunteers, social workers, home-health aides, nurses and a chaplain make up the hospice team.

Volunteers go through 24 hours of training. Newell has found the experience so rewarding that she has encouraged friends, including her husband, whose father had hospice care, to take the training and volunteer.

"It's so satisfying for me that it's kind of infectious," Newell said. "Once you've seen how it helps - it was really so helpful, I can't even tell you. My mother had an aversion to going to the hospital and she didn't have to."

Hobbies: Newell lists gardening - she's a member of the Town & Country Garden Club - traveling, knitting and volunteer work as her hobbies. In addition to volunteering for hospice, she is a literacy volunteer. The Newells recently scaled down from a home on a one-acre lot on The Terrace to a home in Fountain Head with half the yard.

What does Newell like best about Washington County? "I like the people, the pace. I love the country, the scenery, the rural part of it," she said. "Coming over South Mountain takes my breath away."

The Newells, who have adult twins - a boy and a girl - moved here from Long Island, N.Y., when Tom was transferred here with Phoenix Color.

"I've never been happier. New York is a rat race and you don't realize it when you've lived there as long as we did," Newell said.

For more information on volunteering or the services offered by Hospice of Washington County Inc., call 301-791-6360 or go to

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