Hospice volunteers join special team
September 26, 2019 | View PDF
As a team, Optimal Hospice combines compassion with the art and science of medicine to help patients and families live life to its fullest. To continue this care, Optimal Hospice is always searching for volunteers to assist hospice patients.
Optimal Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Alicia McGowan explained the need for volunteers from throughout Kern County to assist end-of-life or chronically ill patients on a daily basis.
Doctors refer patients in need to a hospice organization, such as Optimal Hospice, and once that is done, McGowan is contacted to create a match between the volunteer and the patient. “We have to make sure the patient and the volunteer have a good bonding experience,” McGowan said.
“We’ve had a veteran patient who could not connect with a young volunteer; however, once we were able to connect her with another veteran volunteer, the volunteer was able to get the patient to talk about her war experiences, which provided the patient with a peace and calm and best of all, relief from the burden she was carrying.
In order to become an Optimal Hospice Care volunteer a person must complete an application, submit paperwork for a background check and DMV record, take a TB test or provide documentation that a current test has been taken, attend volunteer orientation and then start volunteering.
For hospice training through Optimal, a 10-hour training module is offered, which can be done at home or during a session. Following that, there is a one- to two-hour orientation, which can be done at home. After the volunteer has completed two hours of training, he/she will go out on a supervised hospice call.
Optimal Hospice was a family-owned organization that was founded in 1968 by Bakersfield pharmacist Clark Gustafson, who recognized a need for quality healthcare services in the valley.
It was opened in 1998 and now has locations spanning from Kern County all the way north through Santa Clara County.
Optimal is a healthcare program that focuses on comfort rather than curing. Hospice is designed to meet the physical, emotional, practical and spiritual needs of terminally ill patients and their families as well as their caregivers.
Hospice offers the patients the following:
--Pain and symptom management for the patient,
--Medical supplies, medications and assistive equipment,
--Support, education and resources for caregivers,
--Volunteer and grief care services.
--Continued support for 12 months after the death.
“Patients will get better and pass out of hospice,” McGowan said. They see this in large part because under hospice care the patient is regularly taking prescribed medication and following doctor’s instructions with assistance by the assigned volunteer.
To qualify for hospice care, a doctor must refer the patient; however, in some cases, the patient will not be accepted by hospice. “When that happens, the patient has the right of obtaining a second opinion and should check with another hospice organization,” McGowan said. “It is then time to get a second opinion.”
She emphasized that Optimal Hospice Care wants every patient to have good quality of life at the end of life.
McGowan cited psychologist and author Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying,” which outlines the five steps of grief. “This book empowers people who are dying to take charge of their death,” she said.
She said that when a nurse is visiting a hospice patient, she has the training to read facial and body signals the patient may be giving off without verbalizing pain. “You can usually tell when a patient is in pain by the way they respond nonverbally to questions about their pain level.”
Even though McGowan has only been at Bakersfield Optimal Hospice Care office for a little over a month, she brings with experience from working in a hospice in South Carolina and a senior living facility.
McGowan stated that Optimal Hospice does not work with anyone under 18. “Currently, we have 300 hospice care patients,” McGowan said. She added that another volunteer organization that assists hospice patients is Pet Pals, where pets are brought in to comfort patients.
Optimal Hospice Care is located throughout California in Bakersfield, Lake Isabella, Modesto, Stockton, Fresno, Long Beach, Santa Clara and Visalia.