Mountain States Hospice seeks caring souls to comfort the terminally ill - Volunteers especially needed in Sullivan, Greene, Carter and Johnson Counties


Mountain States Hospice volunteers Kimberly Collins, left, and Carla Davis, standing, spend time with hospice patient Ralph Davis and his wife Lois of Johnson City. Hospice volunteers perform a variety of tasks, including administrative duties, spending time with patients and providing respite for patient family members. Having the volunteers allows Mrs. Davis a break from caregiving so she can enjoy her weekly card game with neighbors.

               JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – A terminally ill patient who has always loved gardening is no longer physically able to participate in her hobby, so a volunteer takes her to a flower garden and gets down in the soil, working on the flowers as the patient watches and chats.

               Another person’s dying wish is simply to visit the mall, while a longtime lover of the library wants to spend some of her last days there, browsing through books and magazines. These are all simple requests, but ones that take on great meaning under the circumstances.

               Volunteers who work with Mountain States Hospice find themselves performing these tasks and many others. They devote their time to enriching quality of life for patients who are facing the end of life.

               Hospice is a special kind of care offered to patients and families when illnesses no longer respond to cure-oriented treatment. Hospice care focuses on quality of life, regardless of the time that remains, and provides comfort care, spiritual care and emotional care while maintaining patient dignity.

               Mountain States Hospice has a staff of professionals who oversee this service, but dozens of non-clinical volunteers provide vital support. They may be asked to provide relief for a caregiving family member, run errands for the family, sit with a patient in his or her home, operate the Hospice office phone line or perform clerical work.

               All of it makes a difference.

               “Those are the type of things that touch people, that touch the lives of patients at the end of life,” said Lena Onks, volunteer coordinator for Mountain States Hospice. “That’s what it’s all about.

               “To us, it’s nothing to go to the mall, but for someone who’s in a wheelchair and it’s their dying wish, it’s a big deal. And the volunteers are such a big part of this. It’s a wonderful program.”

               There are 23 people in the Mountain States Hospice Volunteer Program, and the organization is always seeking more. The job description: “Seeking compassionate, caring individuals who would like to bring a ray of sunshine, love and care into the lives of the terminally ill and their families. No medical background is required, only a willing heart and 12 hours of training.”

               Mountain States Hospice will offer its next training class for volunteers Feb. 27-28 from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Hospice office, 101 Med Tech Park, Suite 100, Johnson City, Tenn.

               The class includes talks from social workers and nurses about end-of-life issues, as well as one-on-one time with Onks talking about the job, meeting the staff and gaining a deeper understanding of what the program is about. Then, through an interview process, each volunteer will be matched with a patient.

               While some people may assume that working with terminally ill patients could be depressing and uncomfortable, Onks said that’s not the case.

               “It’s definitely very rewarding to the volunteers. It can be very uplifting,” she said. “It just thrills them to help others. This helps the patient but it also fills a need within the volunteers.”

               All types of people volunteer. Some are retirees, but there is also a teen program. Many have experienced the death of a loved one and, having received hospice support, now wish to give back. But, Onks said, they must wait a year after that death before they can start volunteer duties, to make sure their grieving period is over.

               Mountain States Hospice volunteers also provide bereavement support to families for a year after the patient passes away, writing notes or making calls to families to help them deal with their grief.

               In addition to the Johnson City office, MSHA also operates a Hospice service in Russell County, Va.

               “We have grown and significantly increased the amount of hours our volunteers put in, and I am really, really proud of them,” Onks said. “But we have a need for volunteers in several areas, particularly Sullivan, Greene, Carter and Johnson counties. That’s the hardest thing for me, to tell someone ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have anyone to cover that area.’ ”

               For more information, or to become a volunteer, call Onks at 423-431-7608 or email RSVP for the class by Feb. 20. Snacks will be provided at the class.

About Mountain States Health Alliance

Mountain States Health Alliance, a not-for-profit health care organization based in Johnson City, Tenn., operates a family of hospitals serving a 29-county, four-state region (Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Southeastern Kentucky and Western North Carolina). MSHA offers a large tertiary hospital, several community hospitals, two critical access hospitals, rehabilitation, a children’s hospital, a behavioral health hospital, home care and hospice services as well as a comprehensive medical management corporation. Its 13,500 team members, associated physicians and volunteers are committed to its mission of bringing loving care to health care. For more information, visit

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