It was 1981 when Malcolm Rich chose to honor his father, who had died not long before without the benefit of hospice.
“It was a very different time back then and they didn’t have hospice in Dayton, Ohio, where he lived,” Malcolm recalled. “I got involved to give back.”
Today, Malcolm is among dozens of JourneyCare volunteers being honored in 2016 for their milestone service anniversaries. Malcolm’s milestone is the longest at 35 years, all spent serving as a patient care volunteer and volunteer leader. His service began with one of JourneyCare’s legacy agencies, Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care, which today serves as the integrated agency’s Chicago arm.
“Hospice strives toward the preservation of human dignity and that’s very important to me,” Malcolm said. “Volunteering is a way to help people who are at a vulnerable time, and to say to them, ‘We respect you as a person and you are honored as a human being.’ That never changes and I find that a privilege to do.”
But so much else has changed since Malcolm started volunteering for hospice, which had only come to the United States as a fledgling form of care a few years earlier. Hospice care was also not yet funded by the Hospice Medicare Benefit.
As a result, initially Malcolm and his fellow volunteers were on call 24/7, being part of a triage with doctors to report patient pain concerns or changes in eating.
“We had to be the eyes and ears of the organization and report to the doctors,” Malcolm said.
Even the volunteer coordinators were volunteers themselves, matching volunteers with patients and leading training sessions.
When the Medicare Hospice Benefit was made permanent by Congress in 1986, Malcolm served as a volunteer representative during administrative meetings at the hospice. The change would
mean more permanent, professional staff to serve patients, and Malcolm wanted to be part of shaping the new role volunteers would have.
“Suddenly patients had larger care teams, but our leadership told us volunteers that we would always be critical,” Malcolm recalled. “They did it in a very planned way and I’ve always admired that. I also realized that we as volunteers would need to provide supplemental services so that the reach of the hospice would be much, much greater. I also respect JourneyCare today, because they embrace this philosophy, too, and prize volunteers as a key part of the organization.”
With the growth of hospice and more robust care teams, Malcolm found himself doing direct outreach to patient families to encourage them to use volunteer services.
“Many of them were a little hesitant and worried that a volunteer might add to their sense of being overwhelmed, but when I explained that we were there to provide companionship when caregivers needed some time to themselves, that we could do light errands and just really help fill in the gaps, we started seeing about two to three families a week requesting our services.”
Today Malcolm still continues to visit JourneyCare patients throughout Chicago and his hometown of Skokie. When he is not volunteering, he advocates for special needs children in his role as an attorney. He is also Executive Director of Chicago Appleseed, a nonprofit group that advocates for fairer court systems in Illinois.
Malcolm says he is grateful to be among the 2016 volunteers honored for their service anniversaries, but he feels that all hospice volunteers should be recognized for their spirit.
“Hospice volunteers are a unique group of people. They put aside any discomfort they might have with illness or sadness and amaze me with their dedication. There are lots of volunteer opportunities out there that are lighter and do not challenge your emotional being. But hospice volunteers do this work because of their love of humanity,” Malcolm says. “And the hospice world should be praised for keeping volunteers involved for all of this time.”