By Jonathan Young
When Ron Hoch, of Andover, was 52, he decided he wanted to do something more than simply work at his job for Medtronic.
“I didn’t want to die a manufacturing engineer,” he said. “There’s more to life than that.”
He started diving into literature and spirituality, and eventually decided to retire early.
“I retired at 57,” Hoch said. “This whole process was five years.”
Around that period of his life, Hoch’s mother died, as well as his mother-in-law and father-in-law. He walked with them all through the dying process.
The experience made him interested in the elderly, so began working with Anoka County respite care and then Allina Hospice.
For 14 years now, Hoch has been volunteering regularly with Allina Hospice in Anoka County, helping patients and their loved ones through the process of dying.
He likes to ask for the especially challenging cases.
“I put a request in, ‘If you have any SOBs, let me have them, because they’re more interesting people,” Hoch said.
Hospice care is intended for patients with a life expectancy of less than six months, according to Kate Norton, volunteer coordinator for Allina Health Hospice & Palliative Care.
“Rather than seeking a cure ... hospice care really aims to make the remaining time that patients have comfortable and as meaningful as possible to that person,” she said. “In general, what we like to do is provide different types of support to patients and their families during a patient’s end of life. ... Our goal is to meet the family and patient where they’re at.”
That can mean providing companionship for the patient, respite for the family, or specific services such as hair cuts, massage and more.
When patients come into the program, they’re assigned a hospice team that includes a nurse/case manager, a social worker, a physician, a pharmacist, a chaplain and a volunteer coordinator.
“Most of our volunteers serve one to three hours per week with patients and family members,” Norton said.
Hoch said every visit is different.
“You never really know what to expect,” he said. “Sometimes you just hold their hand or talk with them. ... Sometimes you just beg the caretaker: ‘I’ll sit with your spouse. Go and have some fun.’”
Simple companionship means a lot to many of the people he works with.
“It can be a lonely job, dying,” he said.
As a Vietnam veteran, Hoch finds he connects especially well with former members of the military.
“There’s not that many male volunteers, and there’s a lot of old men who are combat veterans or who have been in the military,” Hoch said. “We (hospice volunteers) need more guys that have been in Vietnam, that’ve been in Iraq and all the other countless places, because combat takes a terrible toll on the human mind, and the ghosts’ll never leave you.”
It’s amusing, Hoch said, that veterans who had the courage to walk into a jungle with machine guns may be afraid to walk into a house and talk to a man who’s dying.
Hoch admits it’s not always easy.
“I guess the thing that drives me is that I have this high regard for humans in my faith tradition, and I believe that God has a high regard for us and that God wants us to take care of each other,” said Hoch, who is Catholic. “I call it a ministry.”
He’d like to see others get involved in the hospice program, as well, and Norton said there’s a need for volunteers in the north metro.
“In general the Anoka County area is an area that we’re really wanting to target because we don’t have as many we would like compared to other locations,” she said. She added there’s especially a need for male volunteers, as well as volunteers with skills, such as cutting hair.
Norton said volunteers get training in the form of online materials as well as a three-hour in-person training offered once a month. Each volunteer is also assigned to a volunteer coordinator who can answer questions and provide guidance in tough situations.
Hoch hopes more men like him will answer the call.
“It’s perhaps a time for guys who are retired or thinking about retiring to step away from the shuffleboard and continue making a difference in people’s lives,” Hoch said. “They really are important.”
Learn more about volunteering at allinahealth.org/hospicevolunteer or by calling 612-262-7108.