“Care Callers” reach out to hospice patients

Sunday, June 29, 2008 | 2:59 p.m. CDT; updated 2:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Every night around 6:30, Kenneth ‘Skip’ Brady gets a phone call from Angie Patterson. They usually talk for five to 10 minutes, but sometimes the conversations last longer.

Instead of what could be a quiet and lonely evening, Brady and other Community Hospices of America patients in the Columbia area are greeted with a familiar and caring voice.

Getting Involved

To volunteer at the Community Hospices of America, contact Dale Willis at 573-443-8360. The hospice is currently looking for non-medical volunteers to be care callers, as well as helping with other duties.

Brady said that Patterson is very good at understanding.

“If I don’t feel up to it, we won’t talk for long,” he said. “She will catch on to my tone of voice.”

Brady said that Patterson relaxes him, makes him feel comfortable and gives him self-assurance.

Patterson has volunteered for Community Hospices of America since 2004, and her daily calls to Brady are part of a new program to provide a caring voice for hospice patients.

Dale Willis, the volunteer coordinator for the hospice based on I-70 Drive Southeast, said the “Care Calls” program started about five months ago and needs more care callers and other volunteers. The idea came a few months ago from Kathi Holloway, the program director at the hospice. Holloway said she was looking for ways to get more volunteers involved and have them connect more with the patients.

“A lot of volunteers have other jobs and things that they do,” she said. “People perhaps can’t get out but still want to do something.”

Medicare requires five percent of paid working hours to be matched with volunteer hours. Holloway said that before the program, the hospice had the hours but there was a small group of volunteers doing a large amount of work. The program has increased the volunteer pool.

As far as Willis knows, the new hospice program is the only one of its kind. Volunteers call patients every evening to chat about how they are doing physically and emotionally and check on their needs.

Some of the questions the “Care Calls” information sheet suggests are checking on their medication supply, how much pain they are in and how they are feeling emotionally.

Holloway likes the program because if the patient isn’t feeling well, the care caller can alert the on-call center, and the hospice can send someone to the patient’s house. She said that the patient may not call on their own.

“It helps us be better prepared as an organization,” Holloway said.

Patterson said Community Hospices of America’s mission is interesting and it is something she believes in. When she started graduate school at MU, she said she had a much busier schedule and the “Care Calls” program was an easy way to stay involved as a non-medical volunteer.

“I can do it from wherever I am,” she said.

Brady said that he appreciates the outreach. He likes that Patterson is there to ask him what he needs.

“She is a wonderful girl and she makes me feel wonderful, too,” he said.

Community Hospices of America in Columbia has 56 volunteers, 15 of whom have agreed to be care callers. Besides checking up on patients, volunteers help out at the office, provide patients with companionship and run errands for patients. Becoming a non-medical volunteer for Community Hospices of America requires completion of volunteer training as well as passing a tuberculosis test and a criminal background check, all of which is paid for by the hospice. Volunteer training entails a three-hour orientation session, a slide show to view at home and a training manual.

Both Brady and Patterson said they value their daily conversations.

“It is someone to check in every night, that’s what we both get out of it,” Patterson said. “It is someone to say good night to.”

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