Hospice volunteer supports patients and their families

By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn resident Tom Powers, 68, helps people enjoy the last days of their lives. Powers, who has lived in Auburn for about 10 years, spends at least four hours of his week as a hospice volunteer through Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. Powers said the most important thing people should know about the volunteer work he does and about hospice itself is that these services are not simply used to help someone die. “So many people think it’s just a place where they go and die, and it’s not that at all,” Powers said. “There’s a lot of living to be done.” Powers said hospice services are focused on providing a team of healthcare specialists to suit whatever needs the patient might have at the time, not just waiting for them to breathe their last breaths. It involves a team of doctors, nurses, chaplains, social workers, homecare providers and volunteers all working together to help the patient with whatever he or she may need at the time. “It can be as simple as somebody who is bed-ridden and needs a hospital bed,” Powers said. “In some cases it’s listening while they talk, and sometimes it’s just being there.” Often, Powers said, the team goes to the patients’ homes, because it is the goal of hospice to keep people at home. However, patients are sometimes in nursing homes as well. Powers said another misconception he hopes to clear up is the idea that all patients in hospice services die. “Believe it or not, some patients actually graduate from hospice,” Powers said. “Some people have really had terrible symptoms and with the proper medical treatment and with support for solving some of their other problems, their life has improved and they’ve gotten out of it.” Powers has always had a strong drive to volunteer as a result of his upbringing. “I’m interested in volunteering, because I was born and raised in the military and we always moved,” Powers said, reflecting on his father’s Army career. “So, I guess it was my family’s way of making connections in the community where we were.” Powers worked for 30 years as a teacher at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, after serving in the Army for eight years. He taught Chinese to military personnel and other government officials at the institute. He has also used his Chinese language skills in his volunteering. Powers and his wife moved to Auburn after because they wanted to stay close to their two daughters who live in the Bay Area, and Auburn just seemed to fit. “For two years prior to my retirement we … were exploring all of California, and when we drove through Auburn we just liked what we saw,” he said. After the couple settled in Auburn, Powers saw an ad in the Auburn Journal that said there was training coming up for hospice volunteers. He saw this as a way to connect with his new community. “I enjoy helping people and learning from them because I’ve encumbered an awful lot of wisdom in the last eight years with hospice,” Powers said. “It’s amazing what people have seen. I’ve known everything from scoundrels to professors and outright criminals.” Powers admits that he hasn’t always had a welcoming reception from patients and family members, but after analyzing just how much help an individual is willing to accept from hospice, he is able to act appropriately. This has included jobs like cooking, shopping, listening and reading aloud. Joan Bissing, who is in charge of the hospice volunteers through Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, said patients usually have no problem becoming comfortable with Powers because of his personality traits. “He’s a good listener, that’s No. 1, and also he’s there for them,” Bissing said. “He’s reliable, being reliable is very important. He just has a good feel about him, he’s comfortable to be with.” One last myth about hospice Powers would like to dispel is that the work of volunteers is done after the patient dies. “After the passing of the patient, they’re available to the family for up to a year to help them deal with grief,” Powers said. This month is National Home Care and Hospice Month, and those interested in learning more about hospice services can call Bissing at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. Bissing can also answer questions about hospice volunteer training that will be taking place in the early part of February 2009. The Journal’s Bridget Jones can be reached at or comment at -------- Hospice services through Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital Where: 11815 Education St., Auburn Phone: (530) 886-6650 Volunteer training Provided by: Sacramento Hospice Consortium Phone: (530) 886-6650 (ask for Joan Bissing) Web site: