When Sandra Fontenot’s father’s health was declining in 2013, she called on hospice for help. “Hospice was very important to me through my father’s illness,” she recalls. “Had it not been for hospice, I would not have been able to handle it nearly so well. It was such a blessing in my life.”
A dedicated volunteer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for the past 22 years, the talented hairdresser has always had a big heart. So, when Leah Pastor Boulley, clinical manager for Amedisys Hospice, discovered a new program offering free haircuts for hospice clients, she immediately contacted Fontenot. The benevolent hairdresser had been a close friend of Boulley’s late brother, Bob Pastor, a renowned stylist and bon vivant. “I’ve known Sandra since I was a little girl,” Boulley shares. “She’s the first person I thought of. It takes a more experienced professional like Sandra to deal with hospice patients. And, I know she’s a giving person, with all the work she’s done for St. Jude.”
Fontenot served as past state president and is currently chapter president of Omega Tau, which holds fundraisers year-long to support St. Jude’s as well as local charities. “It has been my honor to serve on our Louisiana ESA (Epsilon Sigma Alpha) executive board where I am a past state president, and also serve on our SERC (Southeast Regional Conference) that consists of 12 states of which I was appointed a position,” Fontenot says proudly.
As a hairstylist, Eunice native Fontenot joined the Louisiana Hair Fashion Committee when she first moved to Lafayette. She served as one of the state’s three designers, teaching seasonal hair trends to other hairdressers in Louisiana. The trend-setting stylist eventually moved up to Louisiana’s hair fashion committee chairman, traveling throughout the United States for hair shows from New York City to the deep South.
Now, Fontenot has become the first hairdresser for Amedisys’ Haircuts for Hospice program in Acadiana. “It is a way that I thought I could give back, after all that hospice did for my father,” she explains. In typical fashion, she got clipping on her first day, traveling more than 120 miles to service four hospice clients. Fontenot did a shave and a haircut for a bed-bound patient and trimmed three other appreciative convalescents. “It’s an all day thing, because Sandra has to drive,” Boulley explains. “On her first day, she saw patients throughout south Louisiana, all across Iberia, Vermilion and St. Martin Parishes.”
Hospice finds clients who want haircutting services through Amedisys’ healthcare providers or patients’ family members. “The nurses and home health aides identify patients who may have a need,” Boulley explains. “The approval comes from the patient or a family member. Usually, patients are awake, alert and family members are by their side. It’s usually a family choice – all the way.”
Besides haircuts, hospice offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. Services range from reading at a patient’s bedside and knitting lap blankets, to running errands, providing pet therapy and playing games. “Volunteers can also be comfort cooks, where you provide meals to those in need,” Boulley explains. “Volunteers can provide music therapy, too. We also have a couple of young girls who do ‘tuck in’ phone calls, where the volunteers get a nurse, medications or attend to special needs for patients.”
To become a hospice volunteer, you must undergo a background check, obtain references, get a health statement, and commit to serve for one to four hours a week for six months. Volunteers also go through an orientation and training program. During that process, they learn about how the hospice team works; helpful hints for volunteering success; the psychological, social and spiritual needs of clients; providing grief and bereavement support and communication skills and managing stress.
On her first outing, Fontenot discovered many patients who were interested in haircutting services. “The nurses would go to the patients’ homes and facilities, and get feedback on people who were interested,” Fontenot says. “And I think the healthcare providers were surprised by the number of people who wanted haircuts.”
For Fontenot, interacting with these clients was special. “It was a very good, heartwarming experience,” she shares, tearing up. “I just feel like for those who are aware of how they look, a haircut makes them feel better about themselves. It does not matter how old you are, it kind of cheers you up to get spruced up. It was a humbling experience”
At Amedisys Hospice, the goal is “seeing to the patient’s comfort needs,” Boulley explains. For more information about hospice’s volunteer services, visit www.amedisys.com or call 337-988-9778.