Volunteers the key to compassionate care for those reaching the end of their lives

  • Warrnambool Hospice Manager Lu Butler outside the Hospice headquarters and volunteer training school
Warrnambool Hospice Manager, Lu Butler outside the Hospice headquarters and volunteer training school. Photo: Warrnambool & District Community Hospice

Volunteers are playing a key part in providing and sustaining Hospice in the Home for people in Warrnambool and the surrounding district in southwestern Victoria.

Volunteers can help extend lives.

“They feed the dogs, let  chooks in and out, make tea, shop, and generally provide the social side of care that can help keep country folks out of hospital at  the end of their lives,” according to Dr Eric Fairbank, a retired doctor who is busy ensuring palliative care in the region.

“We organised helpers to come to Faye’s home on the outskirts of town to help care for her husband Geoff three times each day at the end of his life. His condition improved but nine months later he is declining again and will die soon. Faye says it’s been better for him, her and their family, to have him cared for at home.”

While existing palliative care services, supportive GPs and district nurses are vital, fewer than 15 per cent of Australians die at home. One strategy to boost this rate is to expand the role of volunteers.

Dr Fairbank told the 2016 Palliative Care Victoria Conference that it costs $137 per day per patient to fund hospice care, irrespective of patient numbers, compared to the average cost of hospital inpatient palliative care beds at $625 per patient per day.

Warrnambool & District Community Hospice’s Hospice in the Home Program provides free care 24 hours per day, seven days a week, through its volunteers, supporting existing informal family networks.

The Hospice is staffed by one part time manager and 47 volunteers, trained using the Palliative Care Victoria course. Although they have been also instructed in no-lift techniques by trained nurses, they are seen as community not medical volunteers. The Hospice has prepared a booklet covering the essential preparations for end of life care, and runs monthly workshops for the community.

Volunteers are rostered according to the patient’s needs over four shifts during a 24 hour period. It is not expected that a family will need someone for each shift, or that a volunteer will need to stay for a whole shift.

“Hospice in the Home programs can support communities everywhere to prepare for end of life care. They give people the option of compassionate care in the comfort of their own home settings, meeting the living needs of those who are dying, as well as the needs of their family and friends,” Dr Fairbank said.

For more information about Warrnambool & District Community Hospice visit www.wdchospice.org.au

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