WHEN AGAPE METHODIST HOSPICE (AMH) HOMECARE started in 1990, it focused on hospice volunteers, training and developing them for the hospice ministry in Methodist churches. It was only later that it gradually grew and expanded its services to having a full-fledged medical team that cares for those with advanced illnesses in their homes.
However, AMH Homecare has not forgotten those who were instrumental to its early ministry. Volunteers, also known as befrienders, continue to form an integral part of the service, as they provide emotional and social support to the patients and their families.
An integral part of AMH Homecare’s holistic care
While the doctors and nurses visit the patients regularly for medical treatments, the befrienders are like their companions who would offer a listening ear or run errands for them like accompanying them to medical appointments.
Ms Sally Kong, who has been a befriender with AMH Homecare for more than a year, has been working in the healthcare industry for years and is comfortable with the topic of death. Hence, when she was searching for areas to volunteer in and was referred to AMH Homecare, she readily grasped the opportunity.
In addition, as a trained counsellor, she had a good idea of what patients with advanced illnesses required from befrienders. “They just need a friend. I keep them company and talk to them about general things like food and their family,” she said.
However, those with no palliative care experience can volunteer too. Often, AMH Homecare nurses would provide befrienders with simple training like using selected home medical equipment or proper methods of moving bedbound patients.
Ms Moira Tan, AMH Homecare’s Nurse Manager, said: “We’ll also give new volunteers a detailed handbook which provides all the information they need to know about palliative care and befriending patients with advanced illnesses.”
Presently, the homecare hospice service has 30 registered volunteers, with almost half of them actively befriending patients. There is also a group of senior volunteers from a local Methodist church that will buy food regularly for patients who reside in Queenstown. Ms Tan added: “Some of our dying patients request to eat certain foods, and the volunteers will search for the food and buy it for them.”
Volunteers still hard to come by
Despite the training provided, it is a challenge recruiting volunteers. Ms Kong, also a zone leader for the West region, faces difficulties matching patients with available volunteers. Very often, the volunteers are only available during the weekends as many are working professionals. However, most AMH Homecare’s patients prefer that befrienders visit on weekdays.
Ms Tan explained: “Their medical appointments usually fall on weekdays so they’ll require transport to and from hospitals. They’re also more likely to be alone on weekdays since their family members will be working.”
In addition, there are many who are already volunteering elsewhere. Ms Tan added that some who have signed up only did so after they had personal experiences with palliative care.
However, Ms Kong believes that being a befriender is not difficult. “Their situations are serious and depressing enough, so our role is to break that monotony and make their last days as pleasant as possible, for example, by creating more light-hearted conversations.”
Being a volunteer at AMH Homecare is certainly not a glamorous task. However, it is more than sufficient reward to be able to bring some peace and companionship to the patients and journey with them until the end.
VOLUNTEER * to befriend those with advanced illnesses. If you have a passion to help, please call 6478-4766 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Tan is a Freelance Writer with Methodist Welfare Services, writing for Agape Methodist Hospice.