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Compassion key quality for palliative care volunteers

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A palliative care volunteer visitor program, aimed at individuals and their families facing a terminal illness, should be on its feet in the district by early next year.

Once the program is up and running, its trained volunteers will be available to enhance the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the terminally ill and their loved ones, regional co-ordinator Wilma Sletmoen said last week.

Sletmoen took on the job in May when she was hired through Kenora’s Pinecrest Home for the Aged’s Home Support program--the funnel for provincial dollars granted for palliative care by the Ministry of Health.

“There’s been increasing provincial attention in providing palliative care. The population is getting older, and more and more people are choosing to be at home when they die,” said Sletmoen, who spent the summer forming a committee that will help select and train the program’s volunteers.

“It’s wonderful for families to have access to volunteers trained [in palliative care] who come alongside and help them during these times . . . because it’s not easy,” stressed Jane Davidson, Sletmoen’s supervisor and the director of Pinecrest’s Home Support program.

“A volunteer who is trained properly adds a great deal of dignity and comfort to the [terminally ill] who want to stay at home,” she added, noting Kenora’s palliative care program had 40 trained volunteers so far and was highly successful in its care mandate.

With a district recruiting team now in place, Sletmoen said the next step is to develop a mission statement, job description guidelines, and a recruitment/screening package for prospective volunteers.

If Sletmoen’s intuitions are on the mark, she won’t have much trouble finding people who want to get involved. But she’s not about to beat around the bush about what qualities the committee is looking for in volunteers.

Selected volunteers will take roughly 30 hours of training over a 10-week period before being deemed ready to work effectively with the terminally ill.

“I’ve had no shortage of volunteers,” Sletmoen noted. “The most important attribute a volunteer will have to have is to be compassionate--people who are first and foremost caring individuals and good listeners.

“But it will, at times, be a tough job and they must be prepared for the fact that there will be an emotional toll on [themselves],” she warned.

Sletmoen encouraged anyone who had gone through the experience of losing a family member to a terminal illness--and came to terms with that loss--to consider volunteering because of the empathy he/she could bring to the program.

Anyone interested in the palliative care program can contact Sletmoen at 274-2126.

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