Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator

About Gemma

Gemma is the Volunteer Coordinator at Central Adelaide Palliative Care Services, through the Community Volunteer program provides services that fill the gaps for families. Gemma coordinates services that help patients and families to maintain quality of life and to ‘stay at home’ for as long as possible. Gemma provides warm and open support to volunteers and ensures an individual’s skills and interests are matched with roles for best impact.

Q&A Interview:

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the opinions and thoughts of our interviewees, reflecting on their own experiences and views.

Can you share a memorable experience involving a volunteer and a family that highlights the impact of palliative care volunteering?

There are so many memorable experiences involving a Volunteer that I have been privileged enough to witness as a Volunteer Coordinator, and most of them involve the connection, care and support that palliative care patients and their families share with a Volunteer. One that stands out however, is a Volunteer who is currently supporting a very isolated person, who has no family support. The Volunteer takes the patient grocery shopping. While this is a very helpful practical task, the connection and support built over time as a result of this is so valuable. The feedback that we receive from the patient is that their time with the Volunteer is truly cherished and something they look forward to.

How do volunteers enhance the overall experience for families, in palliative care?

Volunteers enhance the overall experience for families in palliative care in many ways. They are a companion and listening ear for palliative care patients and their families. They can hold space, to meet people where they are at in their journey. Volunteers can provide practical support that eases the burden on patients, carers, families and friends. Ultimately, it is the care, thoughtfulness and compassion that Volunteers provide that is so impactful and important.

Regarding the future of palliative care volunteering, what do you see are opportunities for growth and innovation?

COVID-19 had a real impact on Volunteer numbers (across all sectors). Now that we know how to navigate the covid world, there is space and opportunity for growth. It is exciting to rebuild our numbers by welcoming new Volunteers to the team. Finding ways to work collaboratively and flexibly create an environment for innovation. Involving our community in exploring new possibilities for Volunteering in palliative care is key. It’s an exciting time.

How do volunteers bridge gaps in care or provide additional support that may not be covered by our current medical system?

They are not there in a medical or professional capacity, so they are able to meet the patient and their family where they are at. Volunteers are there, solely, to listen, spend time with and support palliative care patients and their families. There is something very powerful in the connection that Volunteers are able to build with patients/carers that brings so much value to the overall care of a person.

What support do volunteers receive to navigate challenging or sensitive situations?

Volunteers are provided specialized training and ongoing education for Volunteering in palliative care – this includes many topics such as loss and grief, illnesses and symptoms, self-care and communication to name a few. This helps prepare them when they encounter challenging or sensitive situations.

Volunteers have direct support from me as the Volunteer coordinator, to listen to their experiences, debrief after situations or experiences, provide guidance and further escalate support if necessary. Volunteers also have access to support from Social Workers, the Psychosocial Lead and broader Multi-disciplinary Team, including nurses and doctors. Regular meetings with other Volunteers also provide a space for peer support. Support can also be accessed through the Employment Assistance Program (EAP) if professional counselling is required.

What is a myth about palliative care services you have encountered?

A myth about palliative care services that I have encountered is that palliative care is only for the final weeks or days of someone’s life. It can totally change a person’s perception of Palliative Care when they learn that Palliative Care can be for months and years.