There is one major requirement for someone who wants to become a volunteer for Empath Health hospice affiliates Suncoast Hospice, Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough and Tidewell Hospice or affiliates Suncoast PACE, Empath Adult Day Centers or EPIC.
Quite simply, a prospective volunteer needs a helping heart.
Leave it to Empath Health to find the role and training that best complement the Full Life Care it delivers to the communities across Florida.
“We look for talents and skills that people have they might want to use that you wouldn’t think of as a traditional volunteer,” Vice President of Volunteer Engagement Stacy Groff said. “We’re not an organization that puts people in boxes. We try to find something that will use their skills and talents, as long as it fits within our mission.”
Groff offered up the example of one hospice volunteer who is a former healthcare surveyor certified in risk management and quality assurance at hospital systems. That volunteer now assists the organization with an accreditation update.
Volunteers of all stripes are vital to non-profit healthcare organizations like Empath Health. During Fiscal Year 2022, Empath’s 2,000 volunteers provided almost 200,000 hours of service that represented more than $5 million of value to the company. In 2019, the nation’s hospice volunteers generated more than $469 million in annual savings, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) reported.
Unfortunately, Empath Health has suffered a reduction of volunteers that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Groff estimated volunteer numbers are down 30 to 50 percent from pre-pandemic levels, depending on the service line. Few of the volunteers who left during the pandemic are returning.
“Prior to the pandemic, healthcare volunteering was seen as sitting at a bedside, holding a hand, or reading with someone,” Groff said. “Fast forward to March of 2020, when all of a sudden the media portrayal of healthcare became very different. Masks, face shields and extensive equipment made providers not look human anymore. Risk became a reality. All of a sudden, healthcare had fear attached to it.”
Empath Health’s experience is not unique. According to a 2022 study in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management, about 78 percent of hospice and palliative care providers around the globe indicated “less or much less” use of volunteers since the pandemic’s onset.
That’s why Empath Health is happy to work with prospective volunteers to find a role that best fits them.
Common hospice-related volunteer tasks include running errands, delivering meals, providing companionship or sitting vigil with a patient at the end of life. Volunteers make phone calls to patients and families, and veteran volunteers perform special pinning ceremonies to honor fellow military brothers and sisters.
But there are many other opportunities, including working at one of Empath’s hospice resale shops, helping out with administrative tasks at an office or planning a charitable event, or providing pet therapy, aromatherapy, music therapy or massage therapy. Volunteers also contribute to Empath’s grief and bereavement services, including the Blue Butterfly family grief program. There are also opportunities to help HIV/STI division’s food pantries or assisting PACE or Adult Day Center participants at one of our Day Centers. Teens are welcome to volunteer while satisfying school service requirements and are utilized in many ways.
“When you hear the words Tidewell or Suncoast Hospice, you think of hospice. Empath Health really has a wealth of different opportunities. You don’t have to work directly with a patient. You can, but you could work in the office to support patient care. There are things as simple as sitting at a welcome desk and buzzing people in,” Groff said.
For more information about volunteering in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, call (727) 523-3440. In Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties, call (941) 441-2061. Information and an application are available at EmpathVolunteers.org.