Hospice Helpers- Part One

Published: Nov. 12, 2018 at 5:15 PM EST
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December will mark four years since The Sussman House opened on the campus of Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport.

It is one of only three free-standing hospices in the state.

Since The Sussman House opened, volunteers there have given more than 12,000 hours of their time to help patients and their families find end of life comfort.

Joy Hollowell reports...


"I know we're making a difference in family's lives, that we are helping them as they come into a difficult situation."

Debby Kieran started volunteering for hospice care even before the Sussman House opened in December of 2014

"As soon as I found out that there was going to be a hospice house here, I put in a real effort into making it work.," she says.

Kieran is one of about 50 to 60 active volunteers at the house, located on the campus of Pen Bay Medical Center. It sits just steps away from the hospital. There are seven patient suites, each with a pull out couch so loved ones can stay overnight. The Sussman House prides itself on providing care and compassion not just to those nearing the end of their lives, but those who will have to live on without them.

"I had an older man who came and I said, 'Let me know if I can help you with anything,'" recalls Kieran. "And he immediately sat down in the chair at the desk, and he just started telling me about his wife. When I left that day, I just felt so happy that I was just there to help him in this process."

Joy Chamberlin is the Sussman House Support Volunteer Coordinator.

"We are called support volunteers because we are really the volunteers that are kind of behind the scenes helping," she explains.

Everything from greeting families when they first walk in the door, to making sure fresh baked goods are available in the kitchen at all hours of the day, to filling the bird feeders outside the windows of patients, Sussman House volunteers are known as the unsung heroes of hospice.

Many of the volunteers have experienced hospice care first hand.

"We have volunteers whose family members or relative has passed away here at the house," says Chamberlin. "They will come to me and say they are interested in volunteering because their experience here was so positive."

"It is such a privilege to be with a person at this time of their life," says Emma Stephenson, who has spent a total of 23 years volunteering for hospice. She started back in 1984, volunteering for five years. Then after retiring in 2010, she began volunteering again for hospice care.

"Sitting with people, talking with them, holding their hand," says Stephenson, describing her roles as a volunteer. "Sometimes people share things which are very important to them. They need to tell somebody, but they haven't been able to tell their own family."

Volunteers must first complete a five hour training workshop.

"Some folks take the training and then decide it's not for them," says Chamberlin. "And that's okay."

The Sussman House trained 13 new volunteers in October. There's already a waiting list for the spring workshop.

"The word it out in the community about what volunteering here is all about," says Chamberlin.

Connie Jones is a coordinator for community based hospice volunteers,

"Our professional hospice team, they may work with a number of hospice patients," she says. "But our volunteers are just assigned to one patient, and that is their focus. And I think that's a wonderful message to send to a person at the end of their life, they have someone just for them."


The Sussman House is named in honor of philanthropist Donald Sussman's grandmother, Ida.

For more information, you can log onto https://mainehealth.org/pen-bay-medical-center/services/home-care-hospice/sussman-house