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PROFILE 2012: Support system

Kathy Elam, Leon Dalton and Glenda Marting, pictured left to right, have been long-time volunteers with Community Hospice.

IRONTON — Volunteers are at the heart of what Community Hospice is and does for patients and their families.

Hospice was founded by a group of volunteers who wanted to serve their community by coming together to provide end-of-life comfort to their neighbors.

Today, Community Hospice’s staff and volunteers serve nine counties in Kentucky and Ohio including Lawrence and Scioto counties in Ohio. In mid-January, Hospice was serving more than 150 patients and had more than 180 active volunteers.

More than 50 volunteers are based exclusively in Ohio. They range in age from teenagers to those in their 70s who help out in a variety of ways from doing clerical work to playing music for patients to providing respite care to caregivers.

“Today we rely on them to bring those extra special touches that our employees just do not have time for,” said Susan Hunt, executive director of Community Hospice. “The companionship and the support that our volunteers are able to provide our patients and their families is priceless,” she added.

Ironton resident Aaron Bollinger’s 74-year-old father suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is confined to his bed. The weekly visits he receives by both paid and volunteer hospice staff, Bollinger said, are “a Godsend.”

“It is a lot more people that he interacts with in the home. They are able to come and go often so they have really been a huge help,” he said.

“My dad is a big talker and he has a lot of history and a lot of things to talk about,” Bollinger said, explaining because his father can no longer get out it brings him great joy to be able to share his stories with visitors, including his hospice volunteer, Rick.

“It would be very boring, especially when you are bedfast, to sit there all day and stare at a TV or stare at the walls without someone to talk to,” Bollinger said.

“Being able to help the families during their time of grieving and make the last days of someone better, just by being a friend, just by being there,” is what being a hospice volunteer is all about, said Kathy Elam. “You might not be able to communicate with them but just them knowing that you are there, I think, helps.”

Elam knows; she has been on both sides of hospice’s services. Her mother-in-law was helped by hospice and the comfort it gave Elam’s family left such an impression that she began volunteering in May 2009 after her retirement.

She now spends several days a week visiting patients in South Point at River’s Bend and Heartland of Riverview nursing homes as well as at the Community Hospice Care Center in Ashland, Ky. She also answers phones, works the hospitality cart, which serves refreshments to visitors at hospice, and spends time at health fairs and other public events to promote awareness about hospice.

“It is just so rewarding and you can give as much or as little time as you can,” Elam said. “It is just an amazing facility and I cannot imagine in your final days wanting to be anywhere else.”

Leon Dalton, of Pedro, is one of hospice’s most tenured volunteers, having spent more than 14 years as a spiritual counselor.

Dalton, like many of the volunteers, began his service by sitting with patients and providing respite care to their caregivers. Respite care allows a permanent caregiver to know their loved one is well taken care of and not alone so that they may leave their side to get their own errands done or take some personal time away.

Dalton, who began volunteering after he retired from the steel mill, said he chose hospice on the referral of a friend.

The man said he felt in retirement that he “should do some returns for the community and mankind.”

Over time his duties as a volunteer have evolved and he now spends much of his time providing spiritual services including holding church services at Sunset and Jo-Lin nursing homes and officiating at funerals for patients.

Dalton said volunteering for hospice is just “like working for the Lord.”

He explained, “He does not call the equipped. He equips the called. So when you see something needs to be done you step up and do something for a family.”

Glenda Marting, of Ironton, has also been volunteering with hospice since May 2009. During that time she has done a little bit of everything, from shredding documents to sitting with patients during their final hours, to attending a summer bereavement camp for children. She spends several hours one day a week at Jo-Lin Health Center, to lend emotional support to patients there, and also does respite care.

A retired mental health counselor, Marting was also looking for a way to give back after she retired when she began working at Hospice.

“I didn’t go in to this to make me feel good as much as I wanted to make other people feel good,” she said. “It goes right along with my counseling background. I was in the helping profession and I wanted to stay in the helping profession. I feel sorry for people who don’t have this.”

Marting said she is often asked about her 11th hour volunteer duties, which involve sitting with someone as they die who has no other family members or friends.

“They say, ‘How can you do that? How can you stand it?’ I say, ‘How can I not stand it, because this is a part of life. This is a life cycle,’” she said. “Everyone wants comfort care at the end of their life and I suppose it is something that I would like at the end of mine.”