Volunteer pilot program takes off

January 27, 2015
Volunteer Coordinator, Todd Lawrence and Susie Thurston, one of Housecall Providers' first primary care volunteers.

Volunteer Coordinator, Todd Lawrence and Susie Thurston, one of Housecall Providers’ first primary care volunteers.

By Todd Lawrence, Volunteer Coordinator
I strongly suspect that any person reading these words already knows Housecall Providers (HCP) is one of Portland’s most innovative healthcare providers. As a member of the HCP team, I take great pride in our organization. Were you also aware that HCP boasts one of the region’s most innovative volunteer programs?

The fact that our volunteers serve members of our primary care population truly sets us apart from our peers in the healthcare field. Think about it… does your primary care doctor offer volunteer services? It’s certainly not the norm, but because our patient population is comprised entirely of homebound and disabled members of our community, HCP is far from the average practice. In this population, the need for companionship, assistance, emotional support and family respite is ever-present.

As volunteer coordinator, I would love to take credit for having the vision to create this program, but the credit truly belongs to the Housecall Providers leadership team. They established our volunteer program just over five years ago when HCP expanded its services to include hospice care. It was partially a matter of necessity, as Medicare guidelines require that all hospices offer volunteer services to their patients. But did it make sense to send volunteers to our patients at the end-of-life, while ignoring the fact that our other patients were often as isolated and their caregivers just as exhausted?

A little over two years ago, we quietly began a pilot program that matched volunteers to our primary care patients. It was slow-going at first, as potential volunteers had no frame of reference to draw upon. It is far easier to recruit hospice volunteers, as most people know what hospice volunteering entails. Once we explained the need and introduced volunteers to our patients, the program began to take off. In fact, instead of pulling volunteers away from hospice, it has helped us grow our hospice program by keeping more volunteers actively engaged throughout our extensive service area. Additionally, as time has passed, we’ve even begun to see some of our primary care patients come to hospice with a well-established volunteer relationship already in place.

One example of this was our patient “Bobbie” and her volunteer Susie. They were one of our first primary care matches and they stayed together for the whole of the last two years of Bobbie’s life. Even as Bobbie’s health became unpredictable and caused her to switch repeatedly from hospice and primary care, Susie remained a constant in her life. Allowing for this kind of continuity builds deeper volunteer/patient connections and in the process, strengthens and deepens the level of care we are able to offer.

I will never forget the day, three years ago, when I first interviewed to lead the volunteer program for HCP and Hospice Director Rebecca Ashling laid out the vision for the program. I was looking for a challenge, but I will admit the proposition of adding an additional 1300 patients to my potential caseload of 100 was daunting. I am glad that I embraced the task; it continues to motivate me and give my days a sense of purpose that few people are afforded in their work.

Though still relatively in its infancy, the primary care part of our volunteer program has grown steadily and currently rivals our hospice program in size. Still, we have a ways to go until every one of our patients who needs a volunteer is able to be matched with one. Given this, if you or someone you know would like to volunteer to serve one of our primary care or hospice patients, please contact me at (971) 202-5515 or tlawrence@housecallproviders.org.

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