A volunteer visits a patient at KHSC
Volunteers are beginning to return to action at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, and a new volunteer role brings kindness and generosity for patients experiencing loneliness.
Matthew Manor/KHSC

After three-years impacted by COVID-19, more and more volunteers are beginning to return to action at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), and a new volunteer role is demonstrating kindness and generosity for patients experiencing loneliness. CARE (Companionship, Activity, Recreation, and Engagement) volunteers have a passion for working with the elderly, especially those with dementia, who may not have anyone coming to visit them.

“I was inspired to become a CARE volunteer because my mother had Alzheimer’s and I know how devastating the disease can be,” says Janet Kennedy, who has been a KHSC volunteer for four years. “I’m accustomed to being around patients with dementia and can use my personal experience in this role. It’s gratifying to sit with patients and give them comfort, especially for patients who don’t have many visitors.”

The program is first being rolled out to support patients on the Davies 5 unit at KHSC’s Kingston General Hospital (KGH) site, who are often elderly and are waiting for an alternate level of care (ALC) bed to become available in long-term care or other setting that would better suit their individual needs. Since a more appropriate environment may not become available for weeks, or even months, these patients typically could benefit from extra support as the hospital setting does not provide the same warmth and level of interaction as a home environment.

“I am excited to meet with patients and be able to provide company as the hospital can be quite stressful,” says Connie Xie, a Queen’s University student and CARE volunteer. “I hope to be able to bring joy into their day and to relieve some of their stress.”

Volunteers receive information about the patients they will visit so they can tailor activities to individual interests and preferences. Seemingly simple things like engaging in conversation, games, music, crafts, reading, walking (or rolling) on the unit, or reminiscing, creates meaningful interactions for patients who are lonely. To see a smile, the tears stop, or agitation settle, also brings happiness to volunteers and staff alike.

“We are excited to have volunteers join as part of our team so that patients can have some of the interaction and stimulation that brings a smile to their face and makes them feel more comfortable as they wait to go to the next transition on their journey,” says Jaima Gilchrist, Program Manager, Davies 5. It brings us joy to see them have those interactions.”

The CARE role is an exciting development for KHSC, and the collaboration has been extensive. “Front line staff have been engaged and ongoing support will be received on the floor to enhance the effectiveness and success of the volunteers in establishing relationships with these patients,” says Jill Holland-Reilly, Director of Volunteer Services.

“As we move forward in this recovery phase in the pandemic, there is heightened awareness of the support we need from our communities. The reintroduction of volunteer programs this year reinforces the value of the thread between hospital and community. Every gesture a volunteer makes is a thread of compassion that weaves us together as a community and the CARE volunteers exemplify that compassion.”

During National Volunteer Week (April 16 to 22), please join us in celebrating the impact volunteering has in weaving us together as a community through kindness and generosity.