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Community Portrait: Hospice volunteer fulfilled by this ‘honor and privilege’

By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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Fifteen years ago Theresa Fultz retired from a career in mortgage banking. Fultz is an outdoorsy person and for a while in retirement she busied herself with hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, golfing and enjoying herself. Fultz still plays golf quite a bit but one of the more important activities that now occupies her time is her work as a hospice volunteer with Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice. Fultz had always done volunteer work during her career but for the last five years her work as a hospice volunteer has been personally fulfilling. Fultz’s first experience with hospice was when her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and involved with hospice. “One of my mom’s hospice volunteers was a Catholic nun who used to sing to her in Italian,” Fultz said. November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month with this year’s theme being “We Listen, We Care.” In Latin hospice means “host and guest” and one of the services offered through hospice is in-home volunteer visits. After an intensive weeklong training session, hospice volunteers spend four-five hours a week with one patient who is ill with a life-ending disease, most with a life expectancy of six months or fewer to live. Fultz is among more than 40 hospice volunteers involved with Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital who go into homes once or twice a week to help however they can, whatever is needed. “As volunteers, most of the time we supply caregiver respite, which is a big function. We stay with the patient while the main caregiver, usually a spouse, runs errands or takes some free time for themselves,” she said. Hospice volunteers can also provide light housekeeping, often take patients to the doctor or lab appointments, and help with grocery shopping, read to them, provide some social connection, or sometimes just sit and watch television with a patient. In-home volunteering is just one of the many facets of hospice care. Patient physicians consult with a hospice team, and medical social workers help with the emotional needs of the patient and family. Hospice chaplains provide spiritual support and can assist with memorial preparations, if needed, and home health aides are available through hospice. Medi-Cal, Medicare, or most insurance usually covers hospice costs, but no patient is turned away because they cannot afford to pay for care. Fultz serves on the Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice outreach committee, helping to improve community awareness on hospice services, speaking to church, civic and service groups explaining hospice care. As part of the outreach committee, Fultz also helps with hospice fundraising efforts by organizing annual golf tournaments for the non-profit organization. Funds for hospice are also raised at the Hospice Thrift Store, through individual donations and the Sutter Auburn Faith Foundation. The visits vary with each person. “Most of my patients don’t seem to want to talk about what’s happening to them. Maybe they do to their case worker. They want to talk about pleasant things, a book they read, what’s been on television or current events,” Fultz said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one discuss their own dying.” Fultz is now 70 and plans to keep volunteering as long as she can. “I consider it an honor and a privilege to spend time with these people in the last few months of their life helping to ease them through this transition,” she said. Fultz lives in North Auburn with Robert, her very supportive husband of 48 years, and along with her volunteer work still finds time to play golf as often as she can.