HEARTS OF THE COMMUNITY: End-of-life care a ‘privilege’ says volunteer

Palliative unit volunteers ensure no one is alone.

  • Feb. 26, 2015 2:00 p.m.

Greg Martell has been volunteering with the Saanich Peninsula Hospital palliative care unit for more than 11 years. He and the unit received one of six Hearts of the Community volunteer awards Feb. 19 in recognition of their dedication and service.

Sitting in the Saanich Peninsula Hospital chapel with longtime volunteer Greg Martell, there’s a palpable serenity in the empty room. Orange and golden blocks of glass filter the otherwise overcast light and lend a warm feel to the grey day. It’s the kind of comfort that Martell and his fellow volunteers strive to bring to the palliative care unit at the hospital.

Martell, 80, has a lifelong history of working in the medical business from his first experiences as a military medic, to practical nursing, to serving as a paramedic. And when he and his wife moved to Central Saanich, volunteering at the palliative care unit “just seemed like the right place to be,” he says.

“It’s a great privilege to sit with someone in their last hours or days. To walk that last mile with them, to be present at the moment.”

Numbering nearly 50 altogether, the palliative unit volunteers’ first priority is to sit with the patients and support the families, says Martell, including offering follow up bereavement calls. If there is no family, they’ll take the extra time to make sure the patient has someone with them, so that no one is alone.

They also all take a hand in helping out the overworked nursing staff with the “little things:” tidying up the kitchen, folding linens, even feeding the patients occasionally.

Martell has been volunteering in the palliative care unit for over a decade since it first opened in 2004 and says being able to give back to the community is vital.

“I just feel that service to each other is a big part of why we’re here,” he says. “Service before self.”

He freely admits that the position isn’t for everyone.

“I can imagine it would be hard for some people, but I worked in hospitals for a long time,” he says. “And I worked as a paramedic, so I saw the pre-hospital patients there.”

Volunteering in the palliative unit and focusing on end-of-life care brought his medical career full circle.

With his calm demeanour and soft-spoken voice, it’s easy to see why Martell does well in this position, but he’s not unique among the volunteers.

“(To say) that this program makes a difference is a wild understatement,” says Yasmin Rampuri, manager of volunteer resources. Rampuri nominated the volunteer group for the Hearts of the Community Award, and also made specific mention of the tireless efforts of fellow volunteer Ellen McKenzie, who schedules the dozens of volunteers and ensures no patient ever goes unattended.

“This program would not be able to continue were it not for Ellen,” says Rampuri.

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