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Bringing comfort to palliative patients

August 10, 2015

Volunteer eases the pain on the palliative care unit

Story by Lisa Squires

When Loretta Evans lost her husband five years ago, she had no idea she’d find herself back on the Palliative Care unit at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital, but this time, as a volunteer.

She made the decision to volunteer at the hospital about two years ago—a decision validated after speaking with a patient while waiting to meet with Volunteer Resources.

“We chatted for a while and I learned a lot about him,” she says. “He needed someone to listen. I could tell. I also learned he was on a unit in a room I was very familiar with. When I heard that, I knew this was the right volunteer opportunity for me.”

Shortly after, Evans joined the palliative team. Former palliative care manager Robin Burkart says it was a new experience for patients, families and staff.

“I loved the idea of a volunteer,” says Burkart, who worked closely with Evans for two years before recently becoming manager of the Geriatric Assessment Unit.

“People need a lot of support on the Palliative unit but nurses don’t always have time for lengthy conversations, even though you want to. Loretta fills that void. She’s just a wonderful lady and everyone really enjoys having her there.”

Because of the nature of the unit, Burkart says it takes a special person to volunteer. She says Evans’ outgoing, comforting nature and ability to listen makes her the perfect fit.

“You need certain strengths in yourself to be able to meet the physical and psychosocial needs of the patients and families during what can be a very emotional time,” says Burkart. “You need to be compassionate and empathetic, but you also need to be able to set it aside when you go home.”

Evans volunteers on the unit for a few hours two times per week, depending on the number of patients. Before she begins, she always checks with the nurses to see which patients to visit, adding that “there’s a time to visit and a time for quiet.”

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity,” she says. “I really appreciate the acceptance and guidance provided by the staff on the unit.”

Typically, Evans spends a lot of her time with patients and families chatting, listening and reminiscing about times past. Sometimes, they listen to music.

“I find it easy to connect with people,” says Evans with smile. “I introduce myself and ask where they’re from and one thing leads to another. Some patients are comfortable speaking with a stranger about private matters. Most like to speak about their families and that’s always interesting. If I can bring a smile to someone’s face, that’s all the thanks I need.”

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital, please contact Tyrone Edwards, Volunteer Resources, at 403-529-8847 or email volunteer.medicinehat@albertahealthservices.ca.

For other volunteer opportunities available in health facilities throughout South Zone, visit: http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/10841.asp.