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 emmanuelhospice.org/volunteer.

Helping Friends in Crisis

The Grand Rapids Press recently published an article about grief support. Titled “How to Help a Friend in Crisis,” the article advises friends to reach out and not overthink how they can help. A simple presence is enough.

Therapist Kelly Grocoff shared, “When big life events happen to those we love, we often feel like our efforts to support them need to be big as well. But showing up and participating in small, concrete daily activities can be a lifeline, a solid, sure reminder that they are not alone.”

If you or someone you know has experienced a loss, we are here to help. Our services are open to anyone in the community.

View the article HERE.


Serving Patients Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bryan Cramer, our Director of Business Development, was a remote guest on The WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin yesterday.

He talked about the need for advance care planning, highlighted the Emmanuel Hospice holistic care difference and shared how we continue to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listen to the full story here.

Emmanuel Hospice Experiences Extensive Growth in 2019

Emmanuel Hospice continues to experience expansive growth since serving its first patient in 2013, having achieved a record-year in a number of areas in 2019, including a more than 17% increase in patients served over last year.

“We are humbled by the incredible growth we’ve had throughout the years, and grateful for our strongest year yet in 2019,” said Sara Lowe, executive director for Emmanuel Hospice. “Growth is a sure sign our approach to end-of-life care is resonating with the West Michigan community. We aspire to continue to shape a community that embraces death as a meaningful transition through the care of mind, body and spirit.”

With the support of its board, employees and volunteers, Emmanuel Hospice was able to care for 535 patients last year, up from 455 in 2018. The record year brings the nonprofit’s total number of patients served to more than 2,100 patients across 10 counties in West Michigan since opening its doors.

Last year, Emmanuel Hospice also provided grief counseling and support services to more than 1,300 family members and 170 community members, in addition to providing education on end-of-life issues to approximately 190 individuals.

Since inception, Emmanuel’s team has gone from one part-time employee to more than 50 full- and part-timers. More than 10 employees joined the nonprofit in 2019, some who brought services, such as human resources, in-house to help manage continued growth.

The faith-based nonprofit provider of hospice care also received more than 2,500 volunteer hours from 30-plus volunteers for a cost savings of nearly $50,000. Volunteers made more than 1,000 bereavement calls, created approximately 500 handmade cards and donated hundreds of other homemade goods such as blankets, quilts and baked treats to bring comfort to patients and their families.

Last year also brought a new 5,400-square-foot office space, located just south of downtown Grand Rapids at 401 Hall St. SW. The expansion added 3,500 square feet compared to Emmanuel’s former office space at St. Ann’s Home, which allowed staff the space and resources needed to continue to provide quality and compassionate care to patients. Now more than eight months into living in the new headquarters, Emmanuel Hospice’s partnership remains strong with St. Ann’s and its other partners, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset.

“We are truly grateful for the continued encouragement from our donors and board, and the dedication of our employees and volunteers,” Lowe said. “Our successes would not be possible without their support along the way, in addition to the strong foundation St. Ann’s and the Carmelite Sisters laid for us to flourish.”

In 2019, staff brought visions of launching a virtual reality program to existence, giving patients with limited mobility greater access to experiences beyond the four walls of their room or the confines of a bed. With this expansion of its complementary offerings, Emmanuel Hospice became the first hospice care provider in the Lower Peninsula to offer a virtual reality program.

The technology has been used to help patients visit places of emotional significance to relive fond memories and travel somewhere they have never been before. The capabilities gave another channel through which Emmanuel Hospice can put care back into the patient’s hands and has helped fulfill patient wishes.

As a person-centered provider, the Emmanuel Hospice team always starts the care process by asking patients how they want to live. Staff members then go to great lengths to help patients achieve wishes that will help create lasting memories for the patient and their family. In 2019, Emmanuel Hospice was able to fulfill seven wishes, one example being the use of music therapy and donated studio hours to help a patient record original songs that tell the tale of his journey through life.

“I’m proud of our team’s ability to be creative in a space where, despite rate cuts and deductions, we’ve found a way to grow both through philanthropic support and resourceful mission-based budgeting,” Lowe said. “That dedication has allowed us to expand programming we’re not required to provide, but feel is necessary and important.”

About Emmanuel Hospice

Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit www.emmanuelhospice.org.