Hospice Volunteer Survey Could Lead to Cuts in Programs

From 1996 to 1998, the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, Va., carried out Final Gifts, a national research study of hospice volunteerism.

It was designed to elicit information about the activities, motivation and experiences of hospice volunteers. The study also sought respondents' opinions about relevant public policy issues.

Nearly 1,400 volunteers and 500 paid professional staff, drawn from a random sample of 24 Medicare-certified hospices, completed the extensive mail survey, making it the largest and most detailed study of hospice volunteerism ever conducted. Additional data were collected through interviews with administrators.

Key Findings

  • Some 80 percent of hospice volunteers are females with a median age of 55; more than 30 percent are 65 or older.
  • The majority of volunteers (more than 70%) have provided direct care in patient homes, with each serving a mean of more than seven dying patients.
  • A large majority of hospice volunteers are satisfied with their work.
  • Over 90 percent of volunteers and professionals agree or strongly agree that volunteers are essential to the mission of hospice.
  • Primary criticisms cited by staff include that volunteers get too emotionally involved with patients and families (30%).
  • Hospice leaders assert that maintaining a strong volunteer program requires a significant investment of human and other resources at a time of flat or declining revenues and increasing medical and pharmaceutical costs.

    While the responses indicate a broad commitment to volunteerism in the hospice industry, the researchers concluded cost concerns are likely to induce hospices to reduce future investments in volunteer programs unless their effects on patient outcomes are documented more accurately.