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Hospice volunteers continue to provide invaluable support during the pandemic

During the pandemic, Emmanuel Hospice has gotten creative to allow for quality volunteer engagement as the coronavirus continues to alter the way even end-of-life care is delivered.

Under normal circumstances, volunteers serve the faith-based nonprofit provider of hospice care by making bereavement calls, providing patient/family support, capturing patients’ life stories, supporting office needs and providing companionship with certified pet visitors throughout West Michigan.

But since COVID-19 arrived, only certain caregivers such as nurses and patient aides are allowed at the patient bedside in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living and rehab facilities. Depending on varying visitor protocols, some facilities may also allow social workers and individuals providing spiritual care and complementary therapy services inside. In some cases, these restrictions have limited or altered volunteer tasks, but it has also presented new opportunities.

“The great thing about volunteering with Emmanuel Hospice is that we have always been flexible with matching a person’s talents, skills and interests to the many volunteer opportunities we have available,” said Volunteer Services Manager Jackie Chandler. “This difference now is that we’re also factoring in COVID-19 precautions, homing in on opportunities that can be done from a safe distance from others.”

“A number of our volunteers continue to provide invaluable support in new or slightly altered ways to our patients and their families, as well as the staff, during these challenging times.”

For example, volunteer Robin Keith helps with weekly drive-thru COVID-19 testing for staff. Robin’s role is to keep the process organized, preparing the paperwork that is submitted with the samples.

Other volunteers, like Bruce Koop and Lauren Davis, have been doing virtual visits with patients and their families via Zoom. Pat Jennings, Sue Levandoski and Erica Pillivant continue to volunteer with the bereavement team by making monthly phone calls to families to check in and see how they are coping with the loss of their loved one. Another volunteer, Marlene Downes, completes weekly mailings and other sorting tasks from home. The organization’s “Card Ladies” also continue to make cards for patients at home.

As some of the few people who can see patients in person, the Carmelite Sisters at St. Ann’s volunteer regularly, providing spiritual care and companionship.

“It feels good to have some of our volunteer base still be able to safely participate in the compassionate, person-centered hospice care we provide for patients and families,” Chandler said. “Even if serving from afar, it’s important they know how essential they are to our organization and our philosophy of care.”

Information about the volunteer program is available at