Hospice is there when—and for whatever—patients need
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo Courtesy of BGH Community Hospice
For more than 30 years, volunteers, nurses and others from Bonner and Boundary Counties have partnered with individuals and their loved ones on their hospice journey. They’ve celebrated anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and celebrations of life—from boat trips on Lake Pend Oreille to special dinners and tattoo parties.
“We have helped our patients capture their life stories in writing, helped them leave lasting memories on video for their children, and more,” says Tami Feyen, RN director of the Bonner General Community Hospice.
Bonner Community Hospice has a rich community history—it first started as a grassroots, all-volunteer organization in late 1985, followed by the founding of the Boundary County volunteer hospice to the north in 1987. Six years after its start, in December of 1991, the Bonner Community Hospice successfully became a medical hospice and joined with Bonner General Hospital to become the community’s only not-for-profit Medicare-certified hospice program.
In 1994, Boundary County Hospice volunteers merged with Bonner Community Hospice to collaborate together and provide optimum care to residents of both counties—forming the Bonner General Health Community Hospice that we know it as today.
“Our deep sense of commitment to every individual in our community is evident in all we do,” explains Feyen. The hospital board is committed to supporting hospice, making it possible for the community hospice to offer the highest quality, best community-based care they can.
Hospice provides hope, comfort and support for those with serious injury or illness who are no longer seeking aggressive or curative treatment. Its goal is to enhance an individual's quality of life, provide comfort for the family and loved ones, and help individuals accomplish their last goals and wishes.
Despite it often being viewed as “the last resort” because of its focus on end-of-life care, hospice is a service that seeks to support the needs of someone with a life-limiting illness along their journey—not just at the very end.
“The thing we hear most often is, ‘I wish we had made the choice for hospice to come into our lives sooner,’” says Feyen. “When hospice services are brought in late into an illness, the patient and their loved ones do not experience the full benefit of the program and all it can truly bring to enhance their lives.”
Hospice services are centered around supporting individuals and their families in whatever way they need, whether that be helping to manage physical symptoms, providing support as they navigate the journey, helping to repair relationships with those estranged, or aiding in future or financial planning to ease the burden of stress.
“For those more isolated at home or in facilities that may not have family nearby, hospice also brings companionship and support that is very unique,” says Feyen.
Doctors and family may be hesitant to bring up hospice, fearing that mention of it means they are giving up, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth, explains Feyen. “For those with a life-limiting illness, hospice is about hope, surrounding you with a commitment to support you in every way to allow you to live your best life each day. Hospice serves to provide the means, the tools, support and nurturing for those with life-limiting illness to spend their days how, where and with whom they choose.”
Rather than a physical center or place, hospice is a holistic program that meets patients right where they are at, and provides care directly in the individual’s residence, whether that’s their home, an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing facility.
Medical hospices like Bonner General Health Community Hospice rely on a medical director, nurse practitioner, registered nurses, medical social workers, spiritual support, certified nursing assistants, an administrative team and many volunteers to provide the many services and level of care they offer.
When an individual starts hospice, the care team partners with that individual and his or her family to accomplish whatever is most important to them.
“It is nothing short of an incredible honor and privilege to be invited into someone's life during this time and to walk this journey with them,” reflects Feyen. “The end-of-life journey looks different for each individual; each of us have different priorities and needs. Our team cares deeply for our patients and their families and are appreciative for each life we are able to touch in our work.”
Feyen and the hospice team have provided care for all ages—from infants to 104-year-olds. Every single experience has been powerful and holds memories. Some of the most memorable experiences are those where patients’ dreams have come true in various ways, allowing them to live life on their terms, spending their final months doing what is most important to them and surrounded by those they love, says Feyen.
Beyond caring for patients and their loved ones during their end-of-life journey, the hospice program offers a robust community support program that includes services and activities that are not reserved for those individuals and families directly receiving hospice services. These include bereavement services, grief support programs, kids camp and advance directives care planning.
“The educational events we provide to our community carry that initial passion and heart for serving others that began with our volunteer roots and continue to influence our program in all we do,” says Feyen.
For those seeking support or care, hospice is 100 percent covered by Medicare, Medicaid and VA, as well as many private insurers, and hospice care covers all medical care, medication, equipment and supply needs related to an individual’s terminal illness.
Beyond the assistance insurance provides, Bonner General Health Community Hospice holds various fundraising events to support those client needs that remain and relies on donations to the nonprofit to heal cover costs that are not met any other way. All donations are fully utilized to meet client care needs.
Beyond donations, the hospice is supported by an incredible team of volunteers and is always eager to welcome more. “Unique to our volunteer program is an individualized volunteer vision plan that includes the ability to create volunteer hours and roles that are a match for individuals and their personal schedule,” explains Feyen.
Initial and ongoing mentoring and training is provided to volunteers, and there are many opportunities for each individual to find the perfect way to serve, whether it’s direct client care, massage therapy, music ministry or administrative support, and much more. Each volunteer is an essential and integral part of what makes Bonner General Health Community Hospice the caring, hopeful and service-filled organization that it is.
To find out more, visit BonnerGeneral.org/services/hospice.