After 21 years in the Army and 19 years with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Ron Barnes felt he had lived a fortunate life and wanted to give back.
At a church function he learned about the We Honor Veterans program with LifePath Hospice. Barnes had experience with LifePath Hospice when his mother faced the end of her life seven years ago. He appreciated the care the nonprofit provided her and was drawn to the unique volunteer program, explaining, “This helped veterans, and I know one or two things about that.”
Barnes underwent 20 hours of volunteer training and was then matched with a World War II veteran living in South Tampa. The two have met nearly 40 times over the past 12 months, with Barnes visiting on average once a week, from two to seven hours. During the visits, Barnes provides companionship for the patient or respite care for the patient’s primary caregiver.
In collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the We Honor Veterans program focuses on respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgment. By recognizing the unique needs of America’s veterans and their families, LifePath Hospice team members have learned how to accompany and guide veterans through their life stories toward a more peaceful ending.
With Hillsborough County home to nearly 100,000 veterans, We Honor Veterans can provide veteran-specific care and support at a challenging time.
“This is such an amazing program,” said Roxanne Riley, LifePath Hospice executive director. “LifePath Hospice staff has learned so much about our veteran population and its culture. We have become more aware of their different needs at the end of life and have worked to address specific issues or concerns they face.”
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization recently notified LifePath Hospice that it had achieved Level II status in NHPCO’s We Honor Veterans program.
LifePath Hospice joined the We Honor Veterans program in June 2011 and attained Level I status last February. To advance to Level II status, LifePath Hospice was required to conduct three veteran-specific presentations for administrative staff, clinical staff and volunteers; integrate veteran-specific content into staff and volunteer orientation presentations; incorporate a Military History Checklist into its intake procedures; and deliver veteran-specific presentations to local veteran organizations.
Approximately 160 LifePath Hospice staff and volunteers have attended the required presentations. Staff and volunteers have also made presentations for local veterans’ groups that have resulted in members becoming hospice volunteers. In addition, LifePath Hospice has established a partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa and is working to establish additional partnerships with groups at MacDill Air Force Base.
According to Riley, the We Honor Veterans program is much more than policy changes and education. LifePath Hospice veteran volunteers and veteran patients bond over shared military experiences. Chaplains also conduct pinning ceremonies for each veteran who receives hospice services. These moving ceremonies recognize veterans’ military service and acknowledge the sacrifices they made to serve.
Over the past year LifePath Hospice has honored more than 340 veterans with pinning ceremonies.
“The pinning ceremonies are so important for veterans, their families and our staff,” added Riley. “For many veterans, it has been a long time since they have been thanked for their service, and LifePath Hospice is proud to stand by them as they face this new challenge in their lives.”
As a demonstration of its commitment to caring for veterans at the end of life, LifePath Hospice is moving forward to obtain Levels III and IV status in the We Honor Veterans program. These levels include additional staff and volunteer education, continuing outreach efforts and the development of organizational policies and procedures that recognize veterans’ needs.
LifePath Hospice is also actively recruiting other active-duty members of the military, armed service veterans and committed individuals to serve as volunteers with veterans facing life-limiting illnesses.
For more information on the We Honor Veterans program at LifePath Hospice, contact Janet Ricklick at 813-984-2307.