Photo: Volunteer pastoral carer Robyn Porep (pictured right) is excited to return to catch up again with Coffs Haven resident Kevin Loader.

Fresh Hope pastoral care volunteers are returning to aged care facilities after a two-month absence now that coronavirus restrictions are easing.

The volunteers’ regular visits have become an invaluable part of Fresh Hope’s chaplaincy ministry and their return is a welcome relief for both residents and chaplains. Five volunteers have already returned, with over a dozen more set to return in the next few weeks.

“Just as the broader community has been feeling anxiety due to the coronavirus, so have our residents. Due to the visitation restrictions, our residents have been feeling isolated. We have all really missed having the pastoral carers visit,” said Moni Guidon, Chaplain at Coffs Haven Residential Aged Care Service in Coffs Harbour, who works with eight volunteers, three of whom have returned. “Now that the restrictions are being re-assessed, it’s great to see them have more visitors and they are thriving and that really means so much to me.”

“Volunteers then do COVID-19 training online which is a video they watch about how to protect themselves and the people they’re visiting,” said Marianne Crowther, Senior Chaplain at Fresh Hope. “Those who volunteer in larger facilities visit residents in one specific area or unit, whilst maintaining social distancing criteria, to minimise the risk of infection. For our Retirement Living residents we are encouraging visits outdoors or in more open spaces where possible.”

To protect the wellbeing of both volunteers and residents, there are a number of criteria returning volunteers must adhere to. As well as not having travelled overseas or been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, volunteers must be recently vaccinated against influenza, have no symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, and have their temperature checked each time they arrive at their facility. Volunteers who have an underlying medical condition, or live with someone who does, are not encouraged to enter the facility.

Marianne said volunteers had already returned to The Glen in Bateman’s Bay and Coffs Haven, in Coffs Harbour. She said those who have returned have been excited to do so and well received.

“The volunteers’ return will make a big difference,” Marianne said. “Just having someone whose presence says ‘we care about you’ can be really helpful. There have been some residents who don’t understand why all of a sudden people aren’t visiting and they’re not allowed out. There is a diminishment that has been happening and I know some of the managers have been really concerned for their resident’s spirituality with reduced visits, other than staff, as the coronavirus restrictions have continued.”

At Coffs Haven, Moni has seen residents delighted by the return of their volunteers, with whom they had formed meaningful connections.

“One of them said to me that she had a cuppa ready for her volunteer and they had a brilliant chat. She didn’t want to miss out – she was ready for her! Another lady who is 101 years old can’t really recall that she has had this particular volunteer for over a year but said afterwards that she had a little girl come and visit and it seemed like they were old friends. She had a brilliant time! It makes a huge difference, it really does.”

By Emily Ferguson

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