Thunder Bay's Hospice Northwest seeks good listeners with compassionate hearts

Hospice Northwest in Thunder Bay, Ont., is looking for people with a compassionate heart and the willingness to listen as part of its campaign to recruit more volunteers. The agency offers support to people at the end-of-life.

Trained volunteers offer 'heart part of palliative care' through companionship to people at end-of-life

Thomas Bentz (left) and Cherie Kok of Hospice Northwest in Thunder Bay, Ont., say the agency, which offers companionship and support to individuals and families at the end-of-life, is looking for 40 new volunteers, from diverse backgrounds and cultures. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

Hospice Northwest in Thunder Bay, Ont., is looking for people with a compassionate heart and the willingness to listen as part of its campaign to recruit more volunteers.

The agency, which offers companionship and support to individuals and their families at the end-of-life and through their grieving after their loved one's death, currently has a waiting list.

"We are the heart part of palliative care," said Cherie Kok, the executive director of Hospice Northwest.

"We just recently had a client, who we served last year, tell us that hospice is like 'massage therapy for the heart' and that really resonated with me and I really think that's what we are," she said.

'Sounding board' for people at the end-of-life

Volunteers are a non-judgemental "sounding board" for clients, explained Thomas Bentz, who coordinates the hospice's volunteers.

Clients "talk to our volunteers about things they wouldn't want to talk to their family about because it involves them and their death and a lot of times their family doesn't want to think about that," he said.  "But it's still a very important thing for our clients to talk about because it's their life."

"For me, I would want hospice services just to know that I wouldn't be alone- Cherie Kok, Hospice Northwest executive director

Hospice volunteers, who go through a comprehensive training program, do not provide medical care and do not influence or give advice on the medical decisions of the client and his or her health care team. Instead, they offer emotional palliative care by supporting and listening to the patient and the family.

"Clients have people coming in and out all day and they might not have a chance to sit and say 'here's what I'm thinking, here's what I'm feeling, here's what I need' and so they would tell that to their volunteer because they have time with the volunteer," said Bentz, adding there are occasions where volunteers will act as advocates.

"The volunteer would go to the care team and say this is what this person is telling me, this is what they need," he said.

During this recruitment drive, Hospice Northwest is putting a special emphasis on recruiting a diverse group of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Volunteers from variety of backgrounds, cultures

"We have clients who come from all over and the cultures that these people come from, they all view death differently, they all view palliative care differently," said Bentz.

"To have someone there who understands what that person is feeling from a cultural perspective, I would say it's really important because it's less isolating, you can help guide what they want to do at the end of their life in a way that makes sense for them."

Kok is hoping that having more diversity among their volunteers will make it more attractive for anyone in the area to seek out the support hospice can offer as they approach the end of their life.

"For me, I would want hospice services just to know that I wouldn't be alone," she said.

Comprehensive training provided

Training for the volunteers, who work with people in long-term care facilities, hospitals and private homes, includes a series of group meetings and individual online learning modules.

They cover everything from family dynamics and ethics to what physically happens to someone as they die. 

Hospice Northwest is hoping to recruit and train 40 new volunteersby the end of December.