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UHD Hospice celebrating 30 years of care

By Staff | Nov 4, 2018

The entire United Hospital District’s Hospice staff stands in front of a quilt made by Mary Helen O’Rourke nearly at the beginning of the Hospice team’s 30-year journey when O’Rourke, herself, was a nurse for Hospice. The quilt is an exact replica of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association. Mary Ellen Rigby says O’Rourke was an inspiration to her, a mentor of sorts, who was “small but mighty” to Rigby.

Over the past 30 years, United Hospital District’s Hospice program has grown from a volunteer-based program. It has changed quite a bit, and there are also some things that have stayed at the heart of this unique and necessary service to families in need of care during a difficult time in their lives.

Already this year, the group of dedicated directors, nurses, social workers, therapists, and other necessary branches of hospice have served over 150 families. When asked how many families they believe they have served over their last 30 years, the number came into the thousands.

With services reaching from Martin County, to Faribault County, and even into regions of Northern Iowa, it is no wonder this crew of dedicated, compassionate people has served so many families. Combined, these 10 women have over 102 years of experience under their belts.

Those women are Joyce Elman, with 12 years of experience, Lisa Ertman with eight months of experience, Vivian Hovland, with 14 years under her belt, Summer Stahl, who has worked at Hospice for five years, Mary Ellen Rigby with a dedicated 18 years in her back pocket, Danielle Steinhauer, with 15 years of experience, Jolee Goodrich, with 16 years, Susan Barnes, fresh with four months of experience, Heidi Ludewig, who has 12 years of hospice experience, and Melissa Hilpipre, who has 10 years of experience. “I’m sure the people who started this program never thought it would get this big,” says Mary Ellen Rigby. “We have huge autonomy and support from UHD and our community.”

Rigby also says that every family Hospice helps care for is unique and the group of women working to help those families are very knowledgeable in any situation.

“This is certainly not a traditional setting, we are constantly problem solving new solutions for each family, since every family has different needs,” she says. “This group is really good at putting the puzzles together for each individual family. Every situation has a different plan of care, and these people are truly experts.”

UHD’s Hospice program is centered on a philosophy that accepts death as the final stage of life. The goal of this program is to enable patients to continue an alert, pain-free life and to manage other symptoms so that their last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones.

The program is comprehensive team-based care of a medical director, hospice director, skilled nurses, home health aides, social workers, a massage therapist, chaplain, and many volunteers. There is also a nurse on-call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

“As long as there are dedicated people to take this on, in such a supportive community, that will always help us continue this line of work,” says Rigby. “And, we are all based in this community. It is a blessing and a unique stress to be caring for our family and friends. It is a sacred moment to walk with these people. It is incredibly powerful, and it’s those types of moments that keep these dedicated people coming back.”

For many of the staff members, their journey began in nursing, and developed into a desire to spend more time with patients during their time of need.

“I think one of the myths about hospice care is that we are taking hope away from people,” says Rigby. “When people hear hospice, there are a lot of mixed feelings about it. But really, we are restoring hope. We reconfigure what our patients are hoping for in their life; we reconfigure what their needs are. People relate hospice with death, and that is a miniscule piece of the picture.”

“Terminal illness is not terminal sadness,” says Joyce Elman. “These people don’t waste their time, they don’t sweat the small stuff, and they are living purposefully. There is such a huge team involved in one person’s time in hospice. And this team doesn’t work well without everyone helping.”

And that includes the community, say the Hospice team. The group is always looking for volunteers to help serve families in the community, as well as donations to continue their services to patients without the proper insurance, or pro-bono patients.

“We will not turn families away if they do not have the means for hospice,” says Rigby. “But the truth is, hospice is one of the poorest reimbursed outlets in the medical community. We get reimbursed approximately $150 a day, which is meant to cover our staff, their travel costs, and the costs of therapists, pharmacists and the like for our patients.”

The Hospice team say their fundraisers are extremely important to the work they do.

“Without help from the community, we couldn’t possibly reach as many families as we do,” Rigby says. “What’s great about our fundraisers is that every dollar stays local and goes directly to our patients.”

Rigby says the greatest part about working in this community is that everyone knows one another.

“We are your neighbors and friends. We are here with you. We are connected with you and we are here to help take care of you or a family member. We’ve been Medicare certified for all 30 years, and this is such an important group for the community.”

Two opportunities to give back to UHD’s Hospice are coming up.

This week, Nov. 5-9, the Hospice office is having a week-long open house from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with treats, cider, and plenty of comradery to get to know the team who helps families in their greatest time of need.

Then, on Dec. 2, at 6 p.m., Hospice will be holding their 30th Annual Light Up A Life Memorial to honor those memories of family members no longer with us. A donation of $10 can light up a remembrance light for your loved one throughout the holiday season.

The last 30 years, Hospice has served families with care and compassion that knows no bounds, and with the support of their beloved community, they hope to be around for 30 more.