SIDNEY — Wilson Health Hospice recently marked the 30th anniversary of its founding.
In 1987, four people took a training class to become the first volunteers and one of them, Carol McMillen-Leckey, of Sidney, is still helping hospice patients and doing other volunteer work for the organization.
She’s the only one who has been a part of Wilson Health Hospice for its entire history, and the lanyard she wears is studded with award pins that document her decades of service.
“I saw an article in the paper that they were going to start our hospice here,” she said, Wednesday, in discussing how she got involved. “(At that time,) home health was all we had.” Deciding to be a part of hospice came easily to the Sidney native.
“My mom was such a good volunteer,” she said. “Before I was even in school, I’d go along with her. Mom had to give a lady insulin every morning.”
Since McMillen-Leckey began 30 years ago, she has worked with countless families as they dealt with loved ones’ end-of-life issues.
“You really meet a lot of nice people. One of the things I found is the spouse or child felt they could talk to you because they knew it wouldn’t go farther. Some of (the patients) talk to you about something that they won’t talk to a spouse or child about. It’s nice they confide in you,” she said.
As a volunteer, McMillen-Leckey has sat with patients to give family members a break from caregiving. The pressure on family caregivers can be almost unbearable.
“A lot of time, they can get overwhelmed,” she said. She has been known to take them a home-cooked meal or dessert. She also lets them know that she can be on call whenever they need her.
Usually, the hospice volunteer works out a visiting schedule with the family. But McMillen-Leckey doesn’t rest on formality when the schedule must be breached.
“I’ve had many just call me at home and say, ‘Can you come over for a half hour or 45 minutes?’ I don’t know of any time I’ve said no. You drop what you’re doing and go. And families don’t take advantage of that,” she said.
McMillen-Leckey also helps patients who are nursing home residents. And sometimes, she stays in contact with spouses after a loved one has passed away.
“You know, they need that extra phone call,” she said.
Wilson Health Hospice stays in touch with its client families for a year after a death, “so families know they have a support system if they need it,” she added.
Terri Esser, the organization’s volunteer coordinator, said that McMillen-Leckey has never said no to her, either.
“She is very willing with her (desire) to volunteer,” Esser said. “She’ll do anything we want her to do.”
That has included help with health fair events, envelope-stuffing, office work, manning information booths and filling packets for distribution at the county fair and assisting with Light up a Life, the organization’s annual tribute to people who have died.
“The other night, we had a screening of a documentary on terminal illness that was open to the public. She helped at the registration table. She’s very caring and wonderful to work with,” Esser said.
It hasn’t been all give and no take for McMillen-Leckey as a volunteer. In working with people at the end of their lives, she has learned patience.
“I’m one of those people that have to know each day what I’m (going to do). They just get up and are thankful for the day,” she said.
If she could change something about hospice care, it would be to increase what the organization does for veterans.
“I wish that more could be done,” she said.
Esser said there are currently 39 volunteers serving Wilson Health Hospice. Anyone interested in participating can visit the website, www.wilsonhealth.org/services/hospice-care, or call 498-9335.
Volunteers must complete training and submit to state and federal background checks and fingerprinting.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.