Volunteers provide comfort at Bonita Springs

CARING HAND Bonita Springs Hospice Care volunteer Josephine Matheny chats with John Tafuri at Villa Serena of Morgan Hill. Photo: Steven Ewertz

Philanthropy runs high in the Gilroy community and Bonita Springs Hospice Care volunteers are a perfect example of that generosity. Although the way they see it, what they receive in return is much more than what they give.

Dr. Syeda Omer, CEO and administrator of Bonita Springs, moved to Gilroy from Bonita Springs, Fla. after her father’s valiant battle of nearly 15 years with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s ended on June 19, 2012.

“I just felt like I really needed to do something for him,” Omer said. “I wasn’t able to get him back, obviously, so I thought OK, the best way is to do something for people in the same situation he was in, to help others and get that peace of mind.”

Two years later the doctor opened Bonita Springs Hospice Care in Gilroy.

“We wanted to make sure that we are there to make a difference in the community,” Omer said.

The facility offers its services to five counties spanning from Fremont to the Monterey/Salinas area, and has served more than 500 patients since opening in 2014, with the majority of those patients residing in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Hollister. The staff of 35, which includes 10 volunteers, currently cares for 50 patients, 30 of which receive hospice care and 20 who receive home health care, a secondary division of the facility which opened in 2016.

Patricia Amaya, Bonita Springs’ volunteer coordinator, is credited with the success of the volunteer program, as well as being “an amazing asset” to the team, according to Omer. Amaya joined the facility in its beginning stages and considers the work she’s doing “very special.”

“Not all our elderly people have someone to take care of them and that is heartbreaking, but it feels great to have the opportunity to be that companionship and be the eyes of our community and take care of the immediate needs of the clients,” Amaya said.

“I can’t tell you how much Patricia has helped me during these years,” Omer said, “There are no words.”

In her role, Amaya oversees recruiting and training of volunteers. That begins with an independent study workbook consisting of 16 units that introduces the concept of hospice care and helps instill the key component of the hospice philosophy: providing emotional and spiritual support for the patient, and his or her family.

After completion of all units, and the competency quiz which follows each unit, volunteers attend orientation and are introduced to senior volunteers. After several weeks of shadowing a senior volunteer on their visits to private homes or nursing facilities, the volunteer is paired up with their own patient. Thanks to the current staff of volunteers, Amaya said the facility is able to meet the needs of all their clients.

Brandy Kelly, director of patient care services, believes the level of comfort provided by volunteers is unlike any other. 

“It means a lot to our patients to have someone just sit beside them, they’re not getting paid to be there, they’re not being asked by the doctor to be there, they’re there because they want to be,” Kelly said.

Volunteer Mindy Scherr of San Juan Bautista experienced her father’s passing in 2015, and last year joined the Bonita Springs volunteer program as a way to help people with their end-of-life transition.

“It’s just been a service of my soul, or for my soul, or maybe both,” Scherr said, adding she spent 10 months caring for her first patient, who at the age of 104 suffered from severe hearing loss and dementia, but still proved to be a great inspiration to her.

“She was so cheerful, she loved doing activities, coloring, tactile things,” Scherr said. “She took pride in what she put her energy into.”

Gilroy resident Josephine Matheny (Jo) began volunteering almost four years ago and considers the experience extremely rewarding.

“To just give a person some comfort by either holding their hand, or playing music, reading to them, and if they’re able, you can play games and just talk,” Matheny said. 

Music has proven to be very effective even in the case of an unresponsive patient.

“You can physically see tension drain from their bodies,” Matheny said.

Volunteers, on average, visit their patients once a week but the amount of time per visit varies. Depending on the patient’s needs a visit may last up to three or four hours. Matheny’s reward for her donated time is the smile she receives from her patients when she walks into their room.

“I enjoy the one-on-one contact with the patients and I find it satisfying and hopefully I can bring joy in the last moments,” Matheny said.

Her philosophy is one shared by many of the volunteers regarding the eventual loss of a patient.

“You’re always sorry to see them go, but you see them die in peace and that’s all I think you can ask for in life is to die in peace,” Matheny said.

A Gilroy resident, mother of two and Bonita Springs’ bereavement counselor, Dyanne Hofstad began as a volunteer intern in 2017. Hofstad’s work as a grief counselor has greatly impacted her philosophy on life.

“You need to love a lot and make wonderful memories with those around you and really be happy,” Hofstad said. “I meet the most incredibly wonderful people, and I am so sorry that that generation is dying off because the stories they have to tell, the things they’ve seen and the differences and the changes.”

Katherine Ly, volunteer for the past two years and Gilroy resident, agrees and considers many of her patients “walking history books.”

“Just hearing everyone’s stories and their life, even if I only know them for a month I’ve learned so much about them and so much history,” Ly said with a smile, adding, “I’ve learned a lot about Gilroy.”

For information about the Bonita Springs Hospice Care Volunteer Program, visit bonitaspringshospicecare.com/hospice-care-volunteers or call 408-848-1114.

Kimberly Ewertz
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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.