Nursing agency seeks volunteers to visit patients

Volunteering is often a two-way street, where volunteer receive as much as they give.

That is true for many of the patient support volunteers who visit homebound adults through a program with Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County. The agency’s volunteer coordinator, Laurie Petrasanta, has an abundance of stories of how both volunteers and patients have benefited from their experiences.

When a patient died, the volunteer who had been visiting her said to Ms. Petrasanta, “I am better person for meeting her.”

“It’s very rewarding to know you can make a difference in a person’s day,” she said.

The agency is seeking mature, compassionate men and women to join the volunteer roster to visit homebound adults who may be experiencing loneliness, personal loss, bereavement, life transitions, or chronic illness and provide companionship and counseling for one hour a week.

Those who are interested may register for a three-session training course scheduled to run Dec. 1 through Dec. 3, from 10 until 2, in the agency’s offices at 761 Main Avenue (Route 7) on the Norwalk/Wilton town line.

Receiving a visit, even just once a week, is enough to keep a patient from feeling isolated.

“I have amazing volunteers,” Ms. Petrasanta said. “They visit patients either in their home or a facility. A lot of them are homebound, maybe the only people they see are the nurses or a therapist. Their family is not around. I don’t know, they come back to life,” she continued, trying to explain the effect these visits have. “They need to communicate, they need to touch, they need to see people interested in them.”

In most cases, she said, a long-lasting friendship is the result.

“One of my volunteers has a patient who loves the Yankees,” she said. “She asked him who his favorite player was and he said Mickey Mantle. She went online and ordered him a Yankee T-shirt. He wears it every time watches the Yankees. There are so many stories.

“People need people. That’s really what it comes down to,” she continued. “They are still able to talk and enjoy things. They want to feel alive again.

“I had a volunteer who would take a patient out into her garden. The patient would watch the volunteer picking the weeds. She just loved watching it. Every time the volunteer goes, she asks to go outside. In the spring, the volunteer started planting flowers and they watched the flowers bloom together.”

“They go above and beyond,” Ms. Petrasanta said of her volunteers. “They form relationships. Sometimes [the patients] do pass away, but they met somebody wonderful in their life.”

Too often, she said, the patients are seen as one-dimensional, but the simple act of making a cup of tea or sharing a bite to eat can lead to unexpected benefits.

“Patients may tell stories of their life,” Ms. Petrasanta said. “These people had lives. They were married, they had children and careers.”

When she makes assignments, Ms. Petrasanta said, she tries to “play matchmaker,” taking into account personalities and other factors.

“I had a spiritual patient, so I sent a volunteer who was spiritual. If someone is a New Yorker from Long Island I’ll try to find another New Yorker so they understand each other.”

For those who would like to volunteer in another capacity, there are opportunities in the office, thrift shops, and the hospice program.

Anyone interested in the Patient Support Volunteer Program, or to register for the training course, may call Ms. Petrasanta at 203-834-6341, ext. 316.

For information on the nursing agency, visit visitingnurse.net.