Director Volunteer Operations - Northern Healthcare Volunteer Association

About Manju

Manju is the Director Volunteer Operations – Northern Healthcare Volunteer Association, providing services to the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network. Manju has long shared her passion for supporting volunteers with an aim to provide the best outcomes for patient and their families, while maintaining a strong focus on volunteer well-being and role satisfaction.

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?

Recently we received an email filled with emotion and gratitude from a family member, thanking one of our volunteers who helped them choose a perfect quilt for their loved one. This involved finding out her favorite colour, preferred patterns and style. She then matched it up with yellow roses as this was the patient’s favourite. Our Quilt program is one of our very valued services, providing family with long lasting memories and can only succeed because of the generosity of multiple volunteers.

I recall another occasion where a volunteer couple did a few ballroom dances for an elderly woman and her husband who loved ballroom dancing. The radiant smile on the woman’s face where she temporarily was transported away from the pain was abundant thanks to the volunteers.

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

Though emotional support is part of palliative care provided by the health system, volunteer interactions enhance and provide an additional dimension that is irreplaceable. Volunteers are available to sit with patients, listen to their life stories and what is important to them. Their illness limits how long they are up sharing what they wish to, and our volunteers skillfully get the timing right. Family members trust our team and share how hard it is to say goodbye.

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

The vision South Australia’s Palliative Care Strategic Framework 2027 shows that palliative care volunteers play a significant role in supporting patients and families, while placing the person at the centre of care. This leads to a need for enhanced training for volunteers and increased awareness of how to engage with palliative patients and their families in the capacity of a volunteer.

With Australia becoming increasingly multicultural, there is a need for targeted recruitment, supported by training for palliative care volunteers so that can navigate cultural beliefs within various ethnic communities.

Another notable area of growth is recruitment and training of palliative care volunteers who can specialise in the needs of needs of children and young people.

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

The unhasty, non-clinical approach our volunteers provide, along with the conversations over innumerable cups of tea/coffee lend emotional support to the patient and their family. This is something that cannot be replicated by the busy staff at the Palliative Care ward who are already run off their feet. Volunteers take the time to draw out stories from patients in the ward, collating scrap books, assisting to select their favourite ones and put together a collection of memories for the family which is once again irreplaceable. Volunteers have often been told by patients that they felt an affirmation after these reminiscences, that their lives did have a meaning and that they were valued.

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

Palliative Care volunteers work in an environment that likely will affect them personally at some time. Staff and colleagues recognise this, and there is access to identified hospital staff for supervision and debrief as well as access to counselling. Team meetings and chats with senior volunteers also assist with discussing and navigating challenges. Personal areas of vulnerability are often discussed with an applicant and strategies are put in place help manage them.

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

One of the most common myths I have encountered is that being in palliative care means that the doctors have stopped all treatment, and the patient has given up hope because they are close to dying. This is not the case. Quality of life, in the life that is left is a strong focus of palliative care and we emphasise this in every way.