Elma Ramsey has volunteered for Hospice of the Valley in Boardman, Ohio since 1989. She has given more than 1,500 hours to assisting patients who have terminal illnesses as well as giving compassion and support to their families. She was instrumental in the development of the organization’s volunteer placement and coordination system, which incorporates the efforts of all agency volunteers who serve approximately 650 families annually.
Ramsey sits with patients so that their caregivers can attend to other tasks, inside and outside of the home, or just take a respite from the demands of fill-time care giving. Knowing that their loved one is in the hands of a competent and well-trained volunteer is very important. Ramsey is also a patient advocate. She takes the extra time to communicate with the clinical staff about her patients, which is valuable feedback for the nurses who can incorporate this information with their own observations to provide a higher standard of care. She is also actively involved in community education, helping to coordinate events that promote knowledge of the hospice concept.
Hospice of the Valley relies on its volunteers to support the efforts of its clinical staff. While it may sound like a simple task, finding volunteers to sit with dying patients is difficult because of the commitment required. Volunteers must complete extensive training and be willing to give at least four hours a week, up to as 400 volunteer hours each week.
When Ramsey joined the Hospice of the Valley, the organization was growing rapidly. Coordinating the efforts of volunteers was a massive undertaking for the Director of Volunteers to handle alone. Ramsey agreed to establish and maintain a system of contacting volunteers and pairing them with patients, a full-time job, without pay. This “temporary” assignment grew into a four-year commitment until Hospice could afford a full-time staff member for the task in 1997. Hospice again called on Ramsey in 1999 to organize a major fundraising event that involved coordinating more than 300 volunteer hours and raising $10,000.
For a recent event, only four volunteers signed up to fill about 50 slots. In one weekend, Ramsey contacted more than 200 volunteers and found not one, but two, for each slot. She can literally mobilize an “army” of volunteers in minutes. For the past ten years, Ramsey has given an average of 225 documented hours to patients and countless extra hours to support the program in other capacity and her commitment and intensity has never diminished.