Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme

Within Aged care

Where do palliative care volunteers fit into the model of care for our aged people?

Bronwyn Heron shares some experiences from when she started working as a Clinical Nurse Consultant Palliative Care with Anglican Retirement Villages (ARV) nearly 4 years ago, joining Palliative Care CNC colleague Christine Lancaster.

“For us coming from a Specialist Palliative Care background volunteers were an integral part of the palliative care team in supporting people at the end of their lives.” So we thought ‘let’s establish a volunteer service in aged care.’”

Christine joined the organisation as its first Palliative Care CNC in 2009 and saw a need for volunteers to be available to those who were dying, who had no family or friends available to sit with them to offer support and comfort.

“Often our residents have families who can’t visit, because of distance or family commitments. Some families particularly struggle to continue to visit over a long illness journey of many years, if for instance their elderly family member is living with dementia, the journey can be a protracted and difficult one to end of life.”

A palliative care volunteer service was established about 6 years ago, and in the early days volunteers were specially selected and offered specific education and training in palliative care. A program of ongoing support was also provided. This service ran successfully for 3 years.

We became aware over time that the role of the volunteer in aged care differs from that of the volunteer in a specialist palliative care services. In part I think, due to a difference in illness trajectories and needs of the frail aged, and a different volunteer base.   Our palliative care volunteers were of advanced age themselves and over time we saw a natural attrition of these volunteers due to their own health issues.

Rather than specific palliative care volunteers in our aged care organisation we now believe that all ARV volunteers should be provided with information to prepare them for giving comfort to the dying and to have an appreciation of the palliative approach in aged care.

“We are trying to open-up thinking about palliative care in aged care, which is so much more than the dying. In aged care I think there is a need for greater awareness of the importance of the provision of a palliative approach. More than that, I think improving access to palliative care is a real issue of equity particularly for elderly residents in care.”

“We are really keen on raising the profile of palliative care in aged care and volunteers can be a key member of the care team toward provision of support and comfort to the frail aged and their families requiring palliative care support as they approach and reach the end of their lives.”