Student volunteers

Sean Madigan

When Shizu Mochizuki finishes her classes she likes to stop by Fairview-Riverside Medical Center on her way home to check on her patient.
Since December, Mochizuki, an international student from Japan, has been matched with a terminally ill patient in Fairview’s hospice care program. Mochizuki and two other University students are three of the program’s 75 volunteers, who range in age from 20 to 85.
Working to get into the University’s nursing program, the College of Liberal Arts sophomore spends several hours each week simply talking to her match, telling him her life story. She brings a small blue picture album to help share her life with the patient.
She shows him pictures of her family and her home in Aomori, in the northern countryside of Japan, while massaging his feet. She is not sure what disease he has. She hasn’t asked.
Mochizuki started volunteering in the program because service hours are a requirement for her degree program, but says she has gained far more than a few volunteer credits.
“When I hug him and he hugs me back, I am happy,” Mochizuki said. “I have no family here, so he is like a grandpa to me.”
Mochizuki knows her time with her patient will inevitably end. All patients’ conditions in the hospice program are terminal and the patients have a life expectancy of no more than six months.
“I want to learn how to comfort a patient, but I also want to learn what death was like, the feeling, the coping with fear,” Mochizuki said of her experience.
Hospice volunteers act as part of a team of caregivers. Nurses and social workers fulfill medical and emotional needs while volunteers provide patients with support and companionship.
Nurses might only meet with patients once or twice a week. They administer pain medication and handle the patient’s physical care. Volunteers provide company and help with domestic tasks.
“They can be someone to be there, someone to talk to,” said Diane Vierling, a volunteer coordinator.
Patients are referred to the volunteer program by nurses or social workers and can choose to accept or decline volunteer assistance.
“For the most part people want to go home,” Vierling said. But for a number of reasons hospice care is not always administered in the home, she added. Medical and financial circumstances sometimes prevent home care. Some patients require 24-hour care or have no extended family to live with.
Medicare provides a daily allowance for hospice care, but if the patient is not eligible for Medicare assistance, the cost of hospice care is passed on to the patient’s insurance carrier. However, insurance companies do not always cover the cost of hospice care. The Fairview Foundation provides assistance to those who seek hospice care but cannot afford it.
Like Mochizuki, Mahmooda Khaliq, a CLA sophomore, joined the program to learn to care for patients and gain experience through personal interaction.
Khaliq wants to one day get into medicine and hopes this experience will help her prepare to become a doctor.
“I want to gain a better understanding of how to deal with patients,” Khaliq said.
Both Khaliq and Mochizuki took part in the hospice volunteer training program. All volunteers must have at least 30 hours of training before they are matched, Vierling said.
“All volunteers are asked to make a yearlong commitment, but we realize this may not be possible for students,” Vierling said.
Patient’s conditions in hospice care vary. Many patients are battling lung, breast or prostate cancer, or struggling with the end stages of heart or pulmonary disease. While some patients are confined to their beds, others live independently and just need help with small household tasks.
“We had a woman that just needed help addressing Christmas cards,” Vierling said. But in other cases hospice volunteers act as relief for full-time caregivers.
There was a daughter who was taking care of her father 24 hours a day, Vierling explained. A hospice volunteer would come to their house two nights a week to give the daughter a couple hours of free time.