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Feb. 14, 2018

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"It's very difficult to speak about dying," says Wilfrid Laurier University researcher Cheryl-Anne Cait, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, who studies death, dying and bereavement.

With her research team, Cait is exploring the changing volunteer demographics and challenges of volunteer recruitment and retention in the context of hospice care at the Hospice of Waterloo Region through a project entitled, "The 'Everyone Dies' project: Assessing Volunteer Recruitment and Retention in Region of Waterloo Hospice Contexts."

"Traditionally, before hospitals, people would die at home, but we have now institutionalized dying," says Cait. "Many people are unhappy with the services that hospitals provide at the end of life, so the demands on hospice care are increasing. People want to be in the comfort of their home at the end of their life, but they need support in order to do that."

Hospice care volunteers in Waterloo assist people in their homes by providing services ranging from driving patients to medical appointments, sitting vigil, providing respite for families or simply being a friend.

The Hospice of Waterloo Region has observed changes in their volunteer commitment levels. Volunteers are moving away from the "traditional" type of volunteering, which involves long-term and regular service, to more short-term and limited types of service. Since these differences can influence program delivery, the Hospice of Waterloo is focused on understanding this shift in dynamic.

The research project will also consider new challenges such as the unique cultural needs and expectations of growing immigrant populations as well as the challenges of volunteering in rural communities, which have larger distances between them and where people might find they play a variety of roles.

"Different cultural groups approach dying differently, which may prevent people from contacting hospice care for help, so we're learning about what their needs are," said Cait. "Hospice volunteers overall also face a lot of challenges, from compassion fatigue to stress to constraints on their time commitment."

The research will look at best practices around recruitment and retention and will address the changing needs of volunteers to help create policy around larger recruitment practices not only in hospice care but for larger volunteer-dependent organizations as well.

The project is funded through a Social Science and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engage Grant. Ginette Lafrenière, associate professor in Laurier's Faculty of Social Work, is the co-investigator on the project.

Read more about Laurier's community engagement through research.

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