In the words of Executive Director Barbara Barnett, “It’s all about community members helping their neighbors and friends in a confidential and compassionate way.” This all-volunteer organization has been centered around neighbor-helping-neighbor with dignity and respect since 1981. Hannaford has supported Down East Hospice Volunteers through its Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.
Tell us about Down East Hospice Volunteers.
Our mission is to emphasize concern for quality of remaining life with a goal of making people feel respected, safe, more cared for and less alone. We were started in 1981 by a small group of nurses in Washington County and it was fairly informal at that time.
It has grown quite a bit since then. We have donated office space in both hospitals in Washington County. Now we have around 35 active hospice volunteers, and some others who are part-time or seasonal because they leave for the winter. We’re state-licensed and our volunteer training is mandatory. Just to note, we always need more volunteers, both men and women.
In October 2021, we were honored by the Maine Legislature with a Legislative Sentiment Award that recognized our 40 years of service.
What services do you provide to your community?
Our volunteers give hours of respite time for caregivers. We can run errands; help coordinate outside resources; and provide emotional and spiritual support for our hospice clients. We call them clients, not patients, because we do not do any nursing care.
However, we do work very closely with the medical nursing community for hospice care, and we provide bereavement support, up to a year and longer as requested for surviving family members and caregivers. I include family and care givers because the people who take care of someone who is at end of life are not always family members.
It’s all about community members helping their neighbors in a confidential and compassionate way.
We have provided celebrations of remembrance in the community for people who have received hospice services and have lost someone, a workshop dealing with the loss of a child, helped coordinate annual cancer conferences, Zoom program for our volunteers concerning the importance of confidentiality and always touching on the compassionate work that we do in the community.
All of our services–programs, materials that we hand out, trainings–are free to the community. There are other volunteer hospices in the state of Maine and we all network and coordinate. We are one of only a few volunteer hospices who does not charge anyone to take our training; we really want them to participate.
We visit hospice clients in their homes or wherever they reside: in the hospital, the nursing homes, boarding homes in Washington County, the Maine State Veterans’ Home. I do personal in-home visits with each new hospice client, when admitting them to volunteer hospice care. I, along with our dedicated hospice volunteers help our clients coordinate with outside resources to get the support they need. Also, we do provide support if there’s a traumatic loss, not related to hospice care and have been called upon to help talk with family members.
Please tell us a story that illustrates the good work that you’re doing.
We had a hospice client dying at home on a winter evening. It was a hospice situation that I was involved with along with a hospice volunteer. Sometimes we work in pairs. We pulled together a simple dinner for the family members when we realized how late it was getting and no one had eaten. The client passed in the wee hours of the morning. We waited until the hospice nurse came to verify the passing. We stayed with the two adult children of the person who passed until the funeral people came. We felt this was a situation that we could not leave them in until the passing. The volunteer and I drove home on icy roads together. It was 2:00 in the morning on New Year’s Day.
What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?
For the last two years, during the pandemic, our volunteers and staff, which consists of me and a part-time office person, have continued to provide this cost-free compassionate care. We visited hospice clients in person when appropriate. Some volunteers visited outside windows, sitting on a chair, bundled up in the chilly weather while celebrating a client’s birthday. Volunteers created small gardens that their hospice client could enjoy from their window. Volunteers put up bird feeders and kept the feeders filled. When making in-person visits, each volunteer followed strict CDC COVID safety guidelines.
We did not miss having a volunteer training since the pandemic, again following very strict COVID safety protocol. We work very closely with the Medicare hospice nurses and we took our cues from them. What are they doing? What are they wearing to protect those they visit and themselves? My board and I made it mandatory for our volunteers to be vaccinated in order to stay active. Both of the hospitals in Washington County worked with me to provide vaccinations for our hospice volunteers when the hospital held their clinics for their staff. This was greatly appreciated by all of us at DEHV.
What do you want people to know about your organization?
There are a number of things. I think the most important one is that everything that Down East Hospice Volunteers provides is free of charge. Everything.
Also, anyone with a terminal diagnosis can have a hospice volunteer and there is no time limit for receiving services. When you start receiving medical hospice support, a medical person has to say someone has six months or less to receive care from a hospice nurse. With DEHV, there’s no time limit. We’ve had clients for over two years. We’ve had clients who invite volunteers to their birthday parties. Our volunteers take them Christmas shopping or for a ride to sit by the water. They’re not always at the point where they are actively dying when they begin receiving volunteer hospice visits.
You do not need a medical referral to have a hospice volunteer. The clients themselves can call us up and say, “Barbara, I’d like to meet a volunteer and see if you have a good match for me.”
Everything that Down East Hospice Volunteers provides is free of charge. Everything.
How will you use the funds raised from Hannaford’s Community Bag program?
We’re going to use the funds to buy bereavement books for children. Everything we give out to families is a gift, and it’s also nice to be able to say to them, this was made possible by Hannaford.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Anyone can become a hospice volunteer. We need both men and women, and applications can be obtained from our website at downeasthospicevolunteers.org or by calling 454-7521 ext. 126 or emailing our office at email@example.com. It’s all about community members, helping their neighbors and friends. For 41 years, our dedicated hospice volunteers have provided compassionate care for the terminally ill throughout Washington County, Maine.
Down East Hospice Volunteers Executive Director Barbara Barnett said, “Every act of kindness, no matter how small, does make a difference. You can make a difference.” Volunteer training is offered twice a year and the Fall 2021 class is pictured above.