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Avera Invites Veterans to Care for Fellow Veterans in Hospice

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Hospice volunteers offer companionship and comfort to people in their final days. Avera St. Mary’s in Pierre is partnering with the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a volunteer base that can relate best to hospice patients who’ve served in the military.

Avera St. Mary’s is hosting meetings to encourage veterans and their families to become hospice volunteers for other veterans.

Karen Gallagher is the VP of Mission at Avera St. Mary’s. She says volunteers with military experience offer something others can’t.

“The unique experience that only another veteran can relate to and that comradery, just provides something that the rest of us as staff —we have chaplains, we have social workers, we have other volunteers. We just came to realize how powerful it would be to have a fellow veteran in that role as a hospice volunteer,” explains Gallagher.

But volunteers serve more than just the hospice patient.

“And their family members too," Gallagher adds, "because they would know on a deeper level maybe what they’ve gone through as family members supporting people who have served in our military.”

Gallagher says hospice volunteers go through an interview process and background check, along with a training program. Time commitments are flexible, and other volunteer opportunities exist for veterans who don’t think hospice is the best fit for them.

While this partnership started with the Hughes County veterans service office, Gallagher hopes it expands. She says Avera also offers in-home hospice care in Aberdeen, Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Yankton.

“I’ve already had a veteran from the Yankton area reach out to me to see how he could get involved.”

For now, the Avera St. Mary’s campus in Pierre is hosting two meetings for potential veteran volunteers: Wednesday, January 8th and Thursday the 9th at 9am in the Helmsley Center 3rd floor board room.

Regional Health supports Education and Healthcare reporting on SDPB.