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Pushing Past the Pandemic: As COVID-19 raged, hospice volunteers found ways to help

Posted on June 21st, 2021

An excerpt from a Skagit Publishing article by Trevor Pyle

The date is lodged in Erin’s Long mind. She doesn’t need to comb through records or consult a calendar.
“It was March 16,” the Hospice of the Northwest volunteer coordinator said confidently, remembering the day in 2020 the organization’s volunteers could no longer go to patients’ homes and care facilities because of the threat of COVID-19.

The Hospice of the Northwest serves terminally ill patients and their families throughout four counties, including Skagit.

While there’s a staff to manage care and support for patients, much of the work is done by a core group of volunteers who help out by doing such things as sitting with bedridden patients, bringing therapy animals for a visit, playing music for patients, accompanying them on walks, checking in by phone and cleaning litter boxes.

Long and others say that COVID-19 tested the organization’s volunteers. It also made more clear the importance of the work they do.
“This is making a difference at such a basic, human level. There’s no pretense. Everything is stripped away. It’s just a beautiful, human-to-human connection,” Long said of the connection forged between volunteers and patients.

Hospice of the Northwest, which was founded in 1989, serves dozens of patients in local care facilities and homes. Long said the organization even provides services for homeless individuals; one recent patient lived in his truck.
The hospice has about 90 staff members, and in January of 2020, shortly before COVID-19 began ramping up, it had about an equal number of volunteers.

As the pandemic worsened, Long said, uncertainly swirled. Volunteers didn’t know if they should go into homes or facilities.
“There was so much uncertainty and fear,” she said. “They didn’t want to be responsible for bringing an unknown virus into a patient’s home. That was their biggest fear.”

Even more uncertainty was introduced by rules instituted for long-term care facilities. The rules changed often and sometimes varied from facility to facility.
For several months, volunteers weren’t permitted in care facilities or homes, although they could still make contact with patients by phone. When infection rates began to drop, they urged management to allow them to enter the field again, albeit with extensive safety protocols in place.

Several volunteers spoke to the Skagit Valley Herald about their experiences during the pandemic and with hospice overall.

Read what our volunteers said, and the complete article article by Trevor Pyle by visiting GoSkagit.com

About Hospice of the Northwest

We are a skilled, caring, and compassionate team of doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, aides, volunteers and generous community donors. Together we provide patient-centered care for people facing serious illness. We’ve been serving the residents of Island, San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish Counties since 1989 and want to know how we can support you or your loved one.

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