2017, Singapore-

“The last resort” is a term veteran volunteer Marlene Foo uses to refer to Dover Park Hospice – not as a last-ditch solution, but as a place that resembles home for the terminally ill in their last stage of life. 

Set up in 1992 as Singapore’s only secular hospice, almost 400 volunteers, including Ms Foo, are integral in providing daily care and support to the residents who mostly suffer from cancer or end-stage organ failure. 

A small number of patients have advanced dementia. 

In November, the hospice received the President’s Award for Volunteerism and Philanthropy (Non-Profit Organisation), an accolade similar to other awards it has won in the past for its robust volunteer management system. 

There are 18 volunteer groups within the hospice. 

Activities involving intimate patient contact include massage therapy, hairdressing and outings . 

Those who wish to take on a more back-end role can join volunteer groups that cook meals for the patients, or create handicrafts to sell for fund-raising purposes. 

Volunteers undergo a stringent selection process, which ensures that they are mentally prepared to work with the residents, and that they are able to commit on a longterm basis.

Following a simple orientation, volunteers go through basic palliativecare training, which includes basic nursing, covering topics like infection control and feeding techniques. 

They also learn about grief, patient communication and self-care. They are then mentored by more experienced volunteers and shadow them for a short period before being deemed ready to interact with patients by themselves. 

Each volunteer group has a leader who keeps a check on the welfare of the patients, and also provides support in an environment where most patients do not stay for more than two months, and where volunteers can get emotionally burnt-out. 

With this support system, Dover Park Hospice has been able to not only retain volunteers who have a variety of skills – many of whom have been volunteering for more than 20 years – but also nurture young and passionate ones. 

The volunteers come from all walks of life, and include housewives, professionals and students.

 Volunteer applications have increased over the years, said Dover Park Hospice chief executive Timothy Liu. 

“People are realising that death and dying are part of the human journey, and rather than avoiding it entirely, we begin to acknowledge it and embrace it. What we try to do at Dover Park is not add days to life, but life to days,” he said.