The end-of-life journey is one we all eventually travel. One of the things that can make that journey easier is to have support, respite care and also an open conversation among the patients, their caregivers and loved ones. In Bonner and Boundary Counties, Bonner General Health Community Hospice is a blessing and can assist patients and their families in a multitude of ways during this difficult time.
A common misconception about hospice care is that it is a last resort. At Bonner General Health Community Hospice, the area’s only nonprofit hospice care, staff and volunteers are hoping to change that perception.
“If brought in timely, hospice offers hope, quality and so much more for those facing their end-of-life journey. Timely referrals to hospice result in a higher quality of the time someone has left, and we see families able to cope much better after,” explained Tami Feyen, who has been with Bonner General Health Home Health Services since 2004 and has been clinical manager of Bonner General Health Community Hospice since 2008.
The goal of Bonner General Health Community Hospice is to provide personalized care for those facing a life-limiting illness, injury or disease. On average there are about 22 active cases each day and each person’s care is tailored to their specific needs. Physicians, nurses, social workers, certified nurse aides, therapy sessions, chaplains and volunteer services are all provided.
“Our patients define their goals, what is most important to them as they walk their very important end-of-life journey, and we mobilize every resource possible to meet what is most important to them,” said Feyen.
As a nonprofit hospice, there are several differences that Bonner General Health Community Hospice employs in comparison to other hospice care locations. While all hospices that are certified by Medicare are required to offer the same core services, medications, equipment and treatment related to the person's terminal illness, the availability, responsiveness, frequency and level of services may vary. Bonner General Health Community Hospice also establishes relationships with many community action partners to create the most impact in the local community.
“Celebrate Life and Community Cancer Services are two examples of the many organizations in our community that we work closely with to help bring our clients’ goals to reality,” said Feyen.
Another unique aspect of the nonprofit is the multiple community support and educational opportunities offered each year. These include individualized grief support, coping with grief classes and support groups. Bonner General Health Community Hospice also responds and tailors support to the community’s needs such as providing a team of professionals to partner with and support the middle school and high school counselors who meet with and support students following a number of suicides among our young. There are bereavement services to directly support the staff in the many facilities that care for our elderly population in our communities, as they often experience grief and loss of their residents.
While we often think of the individual who is suffering, it’s important not to forget about the family and caretakers at their side as well. These family members are struggling as they come to grips with the diagnosis, are often the primary caregiver for their loved one, but also are likely to have jobs, kids and daily tasks they need to continue to manage as well. There are also those who might not have family and would otherwise spend much of their days alone. An unwavering volunteer staff helps fill vital needs for all those affected by the diagnosis.
According to Feyen, Bonner General Health Community Hospice averages around 70 active volunteers at any time, nearly a four-to-one volunteer-to-patient ratio. Combined, these volunteers give more than 2,000 hours each year and log some 20,000 miles visiting those in need and helping their caregivers.
“Volunteers do everything from assisting in the office to companioning at the bedside, running errands, sitting with a loved one to give family some support, to reading with them, cooking for them, providing massages. They can be a quiet presence to support the family and patient both spiritually and emotionally,” said Feyen.
Bonner General Health Community Hospice trains a group of volunteers to become part of the bedside vigil team. “Our bedside vigil team is an amazing group of trained, highly compassionate volunteers who give the incredible gift of their time to sit with someone nearing the end of their life [who] may not have family, or whose family might desire the companionship and support of another at the bedside,” said Feyen. These volunteers will often stay for hours—sometimes days around the clock—providing support and a quiet presence while helping keep the client comfortable as they near the end of their life.
During the end-of-life care, or soon after the family member passes, grief can often overwhelm family and friends. Each person mourns and grieves differently, and Bonner General Health Community Hospice has many different programs for the community to help people through the grieving process. Coping with Grief is a class on Monday evenings that helps people to acknowledge loss, cope with stress and grief, and find empowerment through loss, change and remembrance.
Adult Grief Support is held the first and third Thursday of each month. Here, people are encouraged to share their beliefs, thoughts and feelings while also listening to others’ experiences of loss.
Helping grieving children and grandchildren is also of vital importance to hospice. There is always support staff available to speak with children one on one, and a three-day summer camp each year brings together children who’ve all suffered a similar loss in order to provide them a safe place to express their feelings. There is never a charge for any of these grief support services, and they are open to anyone in the community who is suffering from the loss of a loved one.
While there are certainly daily challenges for all involved in this sensitive and difficult profession, in her decade and a half of experience, Feyen can recall far more triumphs than defeats: “To help a young mother or father reach the goals they set of what they wish to leave behind for their family, to see parents unite with children who had previously parted ways, to help someone reach the end of their life in a place of peace and serenity. The tears, the hugs, the heartfelt thanks are things that mean everything and cannot be measured.”
While never an easy conversation to have, speaking with a loved one about end-of -life care and helping them transition into the care of Bonner General Health Community Hospice early can vastly improve the quality of life for those whose time is limited. “We are a community hospice, providing care in a person’s place of residence, whether that is their home, a nursing home or other facility,” said Feyen. Caring staff and volunteers work tirelessly toward the comfort of each individual from the community. “To successfully walk the journey with another as they move through to the end of their life, to support them fully in meeting their goals, to partner with them to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs successfully, is an experience difficult to put into words,” said Feyen.
Hospice is not giving up; it’s making life meaningful, cherished and comfortable at the end.