SANDUSKY — An area hospice agency seeks veterans willing to help fellow veterans approaching the end of their lives by connecting through shared military bonds.
Stein Hospice — a nonprofit agency that cares for terminally ill patients in Erie, Huron, Lorain, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, and Brown counties — is recruiting veteran volunteers to assist patients who also have served in the military.
The agency cares for about 400 patients a day, about a third of whom are veterans, said Julie McCormick, director of veteran services. Patients receive care in their own homes, long-term care and other facilities, and Ohio Veterans’ Home sites in Sandusky and the southwest Ohio village of Georgetown.
Stein Hospice is asking those interested in volunteering to register for a training course that begins Jan. 7.
“What we’ve found is that veterans, at the end of life, they can have some unique needs … and they are not going to talk about that to just anybody. It really helps them to have a buddy that has been there in one form or another,” Ms. McCormick said.
Volunteers are matched up with patients according to interests, backgrounds, and location.
A volunteer who served in the Marines, for example, might be introduced to a patient who served in the same branch. Volunteers spend time with patients, learn how to provide comfort care such as hand or foot massages, and engage patients in their favorite activities or hobbies. There’s no specified time commitment. Some may volunteer 30 minutes a week, while others might spend entire days helping out.
Gary Wilson of New Haven in Huron County began volunteering with the hospice about five years ago. An Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War, Mr. Wilson was moved to lend a hand after seeing people he knew treated kindly while in hospice.
Some, though not all, of the patients he has helped are veterans. One of his patients has dementia, and Mr. Wilson sits and reads to him, watching his eyes to pick up on communication cues. When he’s meeting with fellow veterans, they don’t just talk about the military. But the shared experience does provide common ground.
“They need somebody to feel comfortable with, talking about what they have to say, not trying to explain something,” he said.
Hospice also recognizes patients’ service to their country by honoring them.
“You’d be surprised at how many of them just really cherish somebody saying, ‘Thank you,’” said Mr. Wilson, adding that as a volunteer, he also feels rewarded by the work.
Those interested in volunteering can call Stein Hospice at 419-625-5269 to register for the free, 18-hour volunteer course.
Classes will be from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 7, 9, 21, 23, 28, and 30 at the Ohio Veterans’ Home in Sandusky. The sessions introduce potential volunteers to the hospice philosophy and include discussion and training on veterans’ issues, comfort care, communication, spirituality, and bereavement.