"A hospice volunteer learns a great deal,'' says Elaine Prien of Arnold, who volunteers to the Bon Secours Home Health/Hospice Program.
''I am learning that it is all right to just be a person without trying to fit some mold," she says, "and I'm learning how to love a person as he or she is and to affirm, accept and value that person to the last loving moment.''
She adds, ''Some people are very accepting of both life and death and they, perhaps, need only medical management for discomfort when facing death. But others have great difficulty in accepting death.''
Hospice care is for both types of people with terminal illnesses, she says. ''It is a mission of love . . . which offers a broad combination of emotional, spiritual and medical support.''
While the hospital staff offers longer term comfort issues, the hospice volunteers "focus on the everyday moments," she says. "I don't really do anything beyond filling a small need, fixing a pillow or offering a drink,'' adds Mrs. Prien.
She downplays her efforts, saying, ''volunteering is not for recognition but to give of oneself, and if writing about it helps to spread a positive attitude, then that is something we all need.''
The Mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours dates back to 1824 with 12 sisters in Paris, France who cared for the sick, suffering and the dying.
In 1881, three of the sisters came to Baltimore and began caring for the sick in their homes here. The Bon Secours Hospital at 2000 W. Baltimore St., was founded in 1919 and offers long-term care, clinics and other health facilities. Its Home Health/Hospice program, which extends care to the sick and dying in their homes, began in 1984 and in 1991 the program became Medicare certified.
Last October, Mrs. Prien began helping Ruth and George Shannon on Sundays. He has Alzheimer's disease and her visits to the Shannon's home near Memorial Stadium enabled Mrs. Shannon to go to church.
''Later," Mrs. Prien says, "when I moved . . . to Arnold and could not get into the city on Sundays, another hospital volunteer, Keith Belcher, took the Sundays and I took Wednesdays as a time to give Mrs. Shannon some uninterrupted rest.''
Mrs. Prien has also visited other families and patients. And she has helped in the hospice's medical records department.
''This work gives me a broader picture of what it takes to give this service," she explains. "I find great delight in what I do and the people I have worked with. And, it is a big plus for me to be able to go to the hospice team meetings with the doctor, chaplain, social worker and nurses. Along with being so professional, they are also so sensitive and compassionate.''
Volunteers often visit three to five hours at a time once each week or once every two weeks, relieving the caregiver and helping with small tasks. Also, they make telephone calls, send cards and letters to patients and families.
Marla Feldman, a registered nurse and Bon Secours assistant director of the hospice program, says that ''hours are very flexible for volunteers because each patient and family situation is different. Volunteers are only assigned a case if they feel comfortable with the situation and the time commitment.''
For more details about the program and how to volunteer, call Ms. Feldman at 837-8500.