Ahern: Hospice program a ‘win-win’ in the community
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org September 6, 2012 2:12PM
Little Company of Mary Hospice volunteers and Evergreen Park Community High School seniors Emma Maceyak (left) and Christine Putlak hand out programs for the hospice’s Tree of Love ceremony, which is for people who lost a family member or friend in LCM Hospice program in the past year. | Supplied Photo
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:10AM
For some, the idea of hospice is a little frightening, because hospice certainly is synonymous with end-of-life issues.
However, for nearly 20 teens in the Southland area, hospice is a positive way to interact with the elderly and share kindness, compassion and, sometimes, even pen pal letters with those who might be alone and lonely.
The teens who are volunteering are part of the Little Company of Mary Hospice, which operates out of Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.
Annamarie Putlak, a nurse at the hospital runs the hospice volunteer program. She said that teens who participate in the program earn service hours but, more importantly, those who volunteer become part of a situation that is a “win-win” in the community.
“This really helps students meet their service hours, but it also unites volunteers, and the spirit among these youngsters spreads the word about hospice,” Putlak said.
“Most of the community doesn’t know about hospice, and this is a chance to dispel misconceptions. This is a win-win for hospice, the youth who volunteer and the people at nursing homes.”
Putlak explained that a major misconception people have about hospice is that the group will somehow hasten a patient’s death.
“Instead of hastening a death, we let people die with dignity,” Putlak said. “We take away the pain and, in some cases, people in hospice survive longer simply because their symptoms are relieved and because of the extra attention they get from our team.”
Carol Krause, a nurse who is a hospice supervisor at Little Company, agreed with Putlak regarding misconceptions of hospice.
“People think those in hospice are giving up,” she said. “Hospice is a case where the doctor can no longer cure a patient. This is not giving up, but is a hope for comfort and for peace.
“People think hospice means we will stop a patient’s medications. No, that is not true at all. We don’t do anything at all to speed up death.”
Krause quoted from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization when she said, “All that we do is grounded in the promise that when medical science can no longer add more days to life, it is our mission to add more life to every day.”
Putlak explained that becoming a teen volunteer is not difficult. She takes volunteers ages 12 to 18 and, once enrolled, teens need only to go through a four-hour course (a condensed version of an adult’s 12-hour course) to prepare them for their service.
“In my training, for example, we teach the youth how to communicate with people who have Alzheimer’s,” Putlak said. “Some children are afraid of this, so this is good training and, of course, I always accompany the teens when they visit the elderly.”
The teens do not participate in any home visits but instead visit seniors at skilled nursing facilities such as Manor Care Health Services, East and West, in Oak Lawn; Evergreen Healthcare Center in Evergreen Park; and Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly community. The appointments are generally after school and on Saturdays.
Putlak also explained that teens do not have to be in touch with someone who is actively dying, so for the most part, teens visit and spend time with the elderly, sometimes playing a Nintendo Wii video game with them. Putlak said she also instituted a pen pal program where some of her volunteers write to seniors.
Putlak’s daughter, Christine, volunteered in her mom’s program from the time she was in eighth grade. Now 17, Christine is a senior at Evergreen Park Community High School, and she still finds time to work in the hospice program.
Christine admitted that at first she was drawn to the program as a way to fulfill her service hour requirements. Soon, however, she found the program was fun and fulfilling.
“I wasn’t used to working with people in hospice, but one time I went to a nursing home, and we played bingo. It was fun,” Christine said. “I invited a few friends to go with me and a couple of them did. I think some were tentative but I think some really enjoyed it.”
Little Company of Mary Hospice has 61 people in its program, and that number has gone as high as 75. The number of people that can be reached by hospice is dependent upon the number of workers and volunteers the hospice program has because the team wants to be sure to give excellent holistic care to each person on the list.
“We really could use a whole slew of volunteers,” Putlak said. “We need hospice volunteers who are willing to go to homes. I’m looking for adult volunteers to help me. I need so many volunteers.
“It is my dream to put together a vigil program where volunteers would be willing to spend part of the day or night at a nursing home or a patient’s home at the very end of the patient’s life.”
To find out more about volunteering, call (708) 229-6901. For more information about the hospice program, call (708) 229-4663.
Little Company of Mary Hospital’s website is www.lcmh.org.