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Woman shares joy of volunteering through Mayo’s Albert Lea hospice program

In 2011, area resident Renee Ruble lost her sister to cancer.

Ruble said it was the third time for her sister to be diagnosed with cancer, and her sister lived about 18 months from the time of her diagnosis until her death. She received hospice services for about the last two weeks of her life. 

“Seeing the hospice team at work with her, with us — with the family — what they did and what they offered, it was so inspiring,” Ruble said.

Ruble was so inspired by the hospice team who worked with her sister and their family in Richfield that about a year after her sister’s death, she sought out becoming a volunteer with Mayo Clinic Health System Hospice Albert Lea. She went through training on everything from emotional and spiritual support, to bereavement, infection control, oxygen safety, how to transfer and position residents, and how to communicate with families.

Still working a full-time job at Mayo Clinic Health System’s Health Reach, Ruble said she is able to volunteer in the evenings and on weekends as necessary with the Hospice program— typically with one or two patients at any given time for a few hours a week each.

“I think of all the patients that I’ve had and how they’ve touched my life,” Ruble said. “What I have received from being a volunteer is so much more than I can possibly even give.”

She looks forward to getting back out as a volunteer through the program, as volunteers have been restricted because of safety concerns since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jackie Carstens, medical social worker for the Albert Lea Hospice program, said she has been touched by Ruble’s dedication even throughout the pandemic.

Ruble has made pillowcases for military veterans and hundreds of face masks that went to staff at the start of the pandemic. Ruble’s mother also crochets blankets and prayer shawls.

At the beginning of the pandemic, though she wasn’t able to see one of her patients at Good Samaritan Society in-person any longer, Ruble said she wrote cards and letters and delivered candy for the patient.

“It was my way of letting him know I was here,” she said.

She encouraged people to try out being a volunteer and said she has been blessed by being a part of the program.

Because of the volunteer restrictions during the pandemic, Carstens said staff have mainly provided Hospice services in recent months, though they are preparing to enter into a new phase to accept volunteers again. They are conducting a virtual training to make sure volunteers are comfortable going back out and meeting with patients, as well as some take-home assignments. Volunteers will be set up with the right personal protective equipment before going back out into homes, and they are also strongly encouraged to be vaccinated.

Carstens said currently there are 23 volunteers and about 40 patients in the program.

Volunteers must be 18 and older and go through an application process and background check before going through the training.

She said in addition to going out and being with patients in their homes or at care centers, volunteers can also help in the office, with fundraising or with bereavement.

“There’s so many different opportunities to help,” Ruble said. “I’ve missed it so much.”

The Hospice program through Mayo Clinic Health System can be reached at 377-6393.