Hospice volunteers find new ways to connect with patients even in times of social distancing

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Volunteers at Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care have found new ways to connect with their patients during this time of COVID-19 social distancing.

Before the pandemic, volunteers offered services as pet therapy, massages, or housekeeping at their patients’ homes.

“But on March 13, we had to discontinue our face-to-face volunteer services,” Melissa Basgall, the organization’s volunteer services manager, told FOX4. “And by noon the following Monday, we had created a new menu of services for our patients and their families.”

The new menu of services includes:

·      Companion phone calls — “These are such isolating times and we wanted to reach out to our patients and their families to let them know we’re here for them,” Basgall said.

·      Pen Pals – “Our volunteers are sending cards and letters to our patients,” Basgall said. “We’re also included pre-stamped envelopes so they can write back. I think everyone like to get a little bit of happy mail.”

·      Music Therapy: Volunteer Gary Kirkland serenades patients at the Kansas City Hospice House by playing outside their windows. His dog, Emma, often joins him for those performances;

·      Virtual Grief Counseling: “We normally have group nights at Solace House where families can come together for grief support,” Basgall said. “We now have volunteers setting up Zoom calls or phone calls for those meetings.”

·       Care Bags – “Our volunteers are delivering care bags to our patients that include such items as shampoo, toilet paper, hand sanitizers, cleaning products, adult coloring books and pencils,” Basgall said. “We drop them on our patients’ porches and then call them to let them know. We have a whole team of volunteers doing this.”

Longtime hospice volunteer Debbie McWatters came up with the idea for the care bags, which she and her colleagues have now delivered to approximately 200 patients across the metro.

“Our patients rely on our volunteers to give them support or respite care,” she said. “When we stopped doing that (in-person care) I wanted to find another way to reach out to our patients and their families to let them know that we still care about them.”

The patients, she said, appreciate the special deliveries.

“They’re very grateful and very surprised,” said McWatters, a 15-year hospice volunteer. “Our patients are truly quarantined. They haven’t been out to the grocery store or drug store. So they’re joyful to have contact with someone.”

McWatters is grateful she can still connect — even from a distance — with her patients.

“I get as much out of this as they do,” said McWatters, who became a hospice volunteer after the organization helped her mother-in-law. “I’m thankful I can help someone at the most important time in their lives.”

She added: “Some of our patients have no family in the area and it’s nice to know you can count on someone,” she added. “We get so close to our patients. They become our families.”

More information about volunteer opportunities at Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care is available at www.kchospice.org/volunteer.

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