Dedicated volunteer plays a key role in hospital palliative program
June is Seniors Month. Many older adults make significant contributions at Hamilton Health Sciences, including through our volunteer programs.
When Lori Collins’ husband passed away in 2017 while in palliative care at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) St. Peter’s Hospital (SPH), she saw the impact of volunteers, and she decided to support other palliative care patients.
“Interacting with these patients is very rewarding,” says Collins, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday. “St. Peter’s is very close to my heart, and I consider everyone here, whether it’s staff or patients, to be like family.”
Enhancing engagement while building connections
The volunteer program at SPH started in 1985, and the first volunteer to join was placed in the palliative care unit. The program’s goal is to enhance patient experiences through engagement and connection by offering companionship, recognizing caregivers, and providing care and activities.
The palliative care unit looks after adult patients in all stages of serious illness.
“It takes a very special volunteer to connect with these types of patients, and form those meaningful relationships with them,” says Meg Chalmers, volunteer resources coordinator at SPH.
“I love to work with my heart,” says Collins. “We all have a calling, and building connections with people was mine.”
As vital members of the therapeutic recreation team, volunteers play a significant role in enhancing patients’ experiences. They engage in a variety of meaningful activities, including crafts like silk scarf design and hand-mold casting. Through these artistic endeavors, volunteers contribute to the creation of beautiful keepsakes that carry personal significance for patients and their families.
Volunteers also visit with patients, providing companionship, comfort, and emotional support. They serve as a friendly presence, lending a listening ear and fostering a warm and welcoming environment.
Additionally, volunteers assist with various events, creating joyful experiences for both patients and their families while in the hospital.
“I love to work with my heart,” says Collins, who volunteers at SPH four times a week. “We all have a calling, and building connections with people was mine.”
An exceptional job engaging with patients
Collins enjoys getting involved wherever she can, whether it’s providing friendly visits, brainstorming craft ideas, or helping staff where needed.
“It’s important to give just as much as you take in this world, or give more than you take,” says Collins. “If I can make somebody smile, that’s one of the biggest rewards for me.”
“Whenever there’s something going on or an event, Lori is always willing to put her hand up and sign up for whatever the task may be,” says Chalmers, using the December holiday season as an example. Between assisting with the festival of lights in the courtyard and dressing up as Santa’s elf, Collins made the most of her role.
Chalmers also appreciates Collins’s dedication to one-on-one bedside visits. “Lori does an exceptional job of engaging with patients and they smile as soon as they see her enter their room,” she says. “Seeing the patients light up and creating that positive vibrancy goes a long way. Not only is she always a helping hand to our staff, but she makes people feel good. You need that in this environment.”
Collins welcomes opportunities to give patients a sense of normalcy. “It’s important to give just as much as you take in this world, or give more than you take,” she says. “If I can make somebody smile, that’s one of the biggest rewards for me.”
Navigating through the loss
An emotional challenge with this type of volunteer work is when patients pass away. “Although this can be difficult at times, it is a privilege for our volunteers to be part of this journey,” says Chalmers.
Collins adds, “I cherish the moments I’ve had with the patient, rather than dwelling on their loss. I grow stronger each time and learn how to be there for the grieving family.”
As part of the program, volunteers have access to multiple resources and support to help them deal with grief and loss.
“Contributing to a patient’s end-of-life care can be emotional, but very meaningful, and we really see the impact here at St. Peter’s,” says Chalmers.
More volunteers needed
Before the pandemic, the volunteer program ran larger hospital-wide activities at SPH. Volunteer coordinators hope to bring back more outside programming, group programming, and community outings like bowling for patients who can participate.
“We’re very lucky to have this team and look forward to welcoming more volunteers,” says Chalmers. “They’re so innovative and creative. They know these patients deserve meaningful connections and care, and volunteers truly deliver that.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can apply by visiting our volunteer page, or emailing email@example.com.