A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Giving Back: Working with those in hospice care is rewarding for volunteers, patients and caregivers

By Haylee Abrams
University of Kentucky

Kyle Bachman-Johnson was first intrigued about becoming a volunteer with the dying after watching a close family friend deal with a terminal diagnosis 15 years ago.

“It opened him up to living in a different way, knowing his time was limited,” she said. “He started to live like he had never lived before.”

UK Libraries employee Kyle Bachman-Johnson has been volunteering with Bluegrass Care Navigators for three years. (Photo from UKNow)

After her children had grown and moved out, Kyle, who now works full-time at the University of Kentucky Libraries, took the opportunity to become a volunteer with Bluegrass Care Navigators. In her three years of volunteering, she’s found the experience highly rewarding and dismisses the notion that the work is all “doom and gloom” like some people might assume.

“The reason people are fearful, I think, is that they’re worried they’re going to do or say something wrong,” Kyle said. “Just once, just show up. Just put yourself there with an open mind and be curious. Most of us aren’t familiar with death so we need a little time and experience to get acquainted with it.”

Currently, Bluegrass Care Navigators is looking for volunteers for the Bluegrass Hospice Care Center at UK Healthcare. The new space opened last year and is located on the third floor of the UK Markey Cancer Center’s Ben F. Roach Facility. The unit provides specialized end-of-life care for patients and their families dealing with a variety of diseases.

With campus parking at a premium, the new location is a convenient choice for UK faculty, staff and students looking for community service opportunities. For Kyle, the floor is just a five-minute walk from her office in Young Library.

“I was so excited when I found out I could walk over there,” she said. “I don’t need to worry about parking!”

The Bluegrass Hospice Care Center is also one of only a handful of hospice units located in an academic medical center. This provides a great opportunity for the campus community to learn more about hospice care.

“This is so educational for people,” Kyle said. “And it can be nourishing for you. I get so much more out of it than I give. It has taught me a great deal about myself and it helps inform my decisions.”

Volunteer Kyle Bachman-Johnson at the Bluegrass Hospice Care Center on UK’s campus. (Photo from UK Now)

While Kyle enjoys working directly with patients – she has participated in Supportive Visits, Respite Care and 11th Hour volunteering – there are many other ways to help. Some volunteers do office work or make phone calls if they’re uncomfortable working directly with patients. Bluegrass Care Navigators provides training and screenings to individualize volunteers’ scheduling and assignments based on individual volunteers’ interests – essentially, you do what you want or are able to do.

“Volunteers are highly regarded members of our care team; they deliver that extra touch of kindness,” said Jennifer Curtis, Bluegrass Care Navigators Community Engagement Coordinator.

“Bluegrass Care Navigators provides ongoing support, mentoring and educational opportunities throughout the year ensuring volunteers feel comfortable in their chosen roles. Our team is thankful for volunteers like Kyle. They generously give their time to help our patients, families and staff.”

Ultimately, hospice care is about improving the quality of life for both the patients and their caregivers. Kyle urges people on UK’s campus and across the community to get involved and to let go of their preconceptions about hospice care.

“You’re not with dying people – you’re with people,” Kyle said. “Their bodies might be on the way out, but they’re still people and they appreciate connection.”

For more information on volunteering with Bluegrass Care Navigators, contact Jennifer Curtis at 859-296-6122. Online information and volunteer applications are available on the Bluegrass Care Navigators website.

Haylee Abrams writes for UK Now

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