Hospice volunteers bring comfort to patients, families

November 30, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Donna Hovermill spent years working in the world of banking. But when she retired, life took her down a completely different path.

She became a Hospice volunteer.

Several days a week, the 65-year-old Hagerstown woman spends time with patients who are terminally ill.

It's a form of volunteerism that many people would avoid.

Hovermill can't imagine doing anything else.

"It's extremely rewarding," she said. "God gave me a blessing by leading me to Hospice."

Hovermill is among a large number of older adults who perform a variety of volunteer services with Hospice of Washington County.

"I would say probably more than 50 percent of our volunteers are over the age of 55," said Lindsay Anderson, volunteer services coordinator with the local nonprofit organization. "They have more time because, often, they are retired. Plus, many have had family or friends who were Hospice patients and now they want to give back."


The mission of Hospice of Washington County is to serve the community by providing quality end-of-life care to patients and loves ones, as well as grief support for those coping with life-changing loss.

While a team of dedicated professionals helps ensure that those goals are met, Anderson said the program wouldn't be possible without the help of volunteers.

"They play a huge role at Hospice," she said. "We're thankful and our families are very much thankful for all that they do."

Anderson said senior volunteers complete a Hospice training program, then are able to choose from a variety of opportunities based on their interests and availability.

Individuals might decide to become a companion volunteer who spends time with patients so family members might have a few free hours to do errands or just relax; or a bereavement volunteer who offers support to families who have lost a loved one. There also are office volunteers, as well as volunteers in the areas of pastoral care, special projects and special services.

Hovermill, who has been with Hospice for the past six years, is an Eleventh Hour volunteer, aiding in round-the-clock companionship for a dying person.

"When I retired, I helped take care of a friend who had ovarian and pancreatic cancer," she said. "Hospice came in and it meant so much to have additional support."

Through that experience, Hovermill said she made a decision to become a Hospice volunteer.

"I knew I wanted to do something fulfilling with my life," she said. "This was it."

As a young girl, Hovermill said she wanted to become a nurse.

"But I didn't have the opportunity to go to nursing school," she said. "Now, I have a chance to help others - something I've always wanted to do."

Hovermill said she will continue to be a volunteer with Hospice "as long as I'm able to give the patients what they need."

Most of all, she hopes she gives comfort to both the patient and family.

"This is a very difficult time," she said. "Often, families don't know what to expect. They can feel helpless. Sometimes, they just need someone to hold their hand and say it's OK.

"When death is near, it's very spiritual. I'm honored to have this experience."

Frank Kovac also serves as an Eleventh Hour volunteer with Hospice.

In addition, he volunteers to take patients to doctor appointments or provide companionship.

Kovac, 85, has been with the local program since 2001.

"When I lost my wife, I went into the bereavement program with Hospice," he said. "I found it very helpful and decided, after seeing an ad in a newsletter, to join up and help others."

Kovac said he has met some wonderful people over the past seven years and admitted to "some periods of grief when they die."

"But there is a need for this work," he said.

Kovac said he enjoys the time spent talking with the patients who share their lives with him.

"We get beyond the superficiality," he said. "We experience real talk, which is sometimes difficult for the patient's family."

Kovac said he is with some patients for a year, others for a short time.

"But they are all special," he said.

Gerry Reid of Hagerstown became a Hospice volunteer five years ago after her boss of 40 years retired.

"I began looking for a way to help others," she said. "Then, I saw an ad in the newspaper for Hospice volunteers. I knew this was something I wanted to do."

Reid, who will turn 69 in December, said she started out answering telephones at the Hospice office.

"But after a while, I decided that I needed to know more about the Hospice program," she said. "So I took the training course."

Today, Reid visits patients at assisted-living homes at least once a week.

"I always come away with a good feeling," she said.

Reid said the patients "become part of her family," sharing stories and talking about the day's events.

"It's the little things that can make a big difference in their lives," she said.

Reid said it's easy to become close, not only to the patients, but also their families.

"I became very fond of my first patient," she said. "Today, I still stay in touch with her family."

Reid said volunteering with Hospice has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her life.

"I always come away - not with a heavy heart - but happy that in some way, I may have brightened that person's day," she said.

There always is a need for volunteers, Anderson said. For information, call Hospice of Washington County at 301-791-6360.

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