Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Small But Mighty-WRV Hospice Makes Big Impact Quietly
Lisa Wild stands outside the house that a group donated money to buy in 1994.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Chris Fallowfield has gotten used to being called an angel.

It comes with the territory as a volunteer for the local hospice.

“It feels so good when you help someone do something that many of us take for granted, like getting into the shower,” she said. “It comes from the heart. And, of course, we get more out of it than we put in.”

Fallowfield and her husband Bob are two of a hundred trained volunteers who work tirelessly to provide comfort for those in their last days and their families as part of Hospice & Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley.

The not-for-profit, which operates out of a little red house at 507 1st Ave. N. in Ketchum, is unique in its approach. Because it receives no government funding, it offers services free to those with illnesses that are not terminal, as well as those that are.

“People don’t know what we do because everything’s confidential. And we’re quiet about what we do—we don’t have a lot of events. So, unless someone has personal experience with us, we’re probably not on their radar,” said Lisa Wild, the executive director.

Hospice staff and volunteers like to think of themselves as “small but mighty.”

They serve a 2,644-mile area that stretches from Smiley Creek to Carey. Six full- and part-time nurses, who are on call 24/7, traveled 19,500 miles to see patients in 2017.

They care for an average of 54 patients a day. And they’ve cared for about 2,000 individuals over a year’s time in a county with 22,000 residents.

More than 80 percent of those who have died in Blaine County over the past 33 years have received hospice care, said Micki Chapin. That’s twice the national average.

And, while volunteers typically find themselves helping older people living their last days with cancer or respiratory illness, occasionally they find themselves helping families with infants or children with terminal illnesses.

They help them and their families live as normal a life as possible, making sure that birthday parties and more go on.

“We think things like hospice are about dying, but they’re really about living as fully as possible,” said wild.

The concept of hospice was established in 11th century Europe by Roman Catholic churches, which sought to offer places of hospitality for the sick, wounded or dying, as well as travelers and pilgrims.

The modern form was created in 1967 by a British nurse who had developed a relationship with a dying Polish refugee. And it was championed by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who wrote “On Death and Dying” after deciding the social response to the dying at the Chicago hospital where her husband was a doctor was inadequate.

The local hospice was started in 1985 by a group of individuals who were caring for a dying friend.

Local hospice workers work to see that no one dies alone or isolated and that those who wish can die in their homes.

Caregivers prepare families for what’s ahead, be it a loved one refusing to eat or, possibly, having hallucinations of long-departed family members.

They give families someone to call any time of day or night. And they give caregivers opportunities to get away from the patient so they can care for themselves, as well.

There’s a lending library for those who wish to research death and the grief process. There are two monthly caregiver support groups, as well.

Wild came from Colorado where she was a nurse specializing in oncology. She worked with hospice patients in the hospital there and found she loved the relationships she cultivated with the patients and their families.

That hospital received Medicare funding.

The Wood River Valley hospice, by contrast, has chosen to forego Medicare certification so it can provide whatever service is needed without government constraints.

The hospice makes do, instead, with individual donations. And it has an endowment fund initiated by Lynn Campion.

“We’re unique in that more than 90 percent of our budget goes to people and services,” said Wild. “Without red tape we can respond to things like people who need care but are not terminally ill. Some of our palliative care patients have been with us a couple of years. Some have something that will eventually take their lives but not for six or seven years, and we provide them what they need to be comfortable.”

A person with dementia, for instance, lives on average seven years after diagnosis, she said.

“We can provide respite to them and their caregivers and another point of contact so they don’t have to go to the ER.”  

Those who volunteer with the hospice sit with people. They walk with people. They play cribbage and Scrabble. They make a pot of soup and deliver it to the person.

One volunteer even took his Golden retriever to visit a hospice patient at the patient’s request.

“People have told us how wonderful it is having someone coming to talk with them. Sometimes friends come for awhile, then drop off. Or, perhaps their friends are sick, as well, or can’t drive,” said Wild. “We provide relationships.

“And just having someone a caregiver can call for help making a decision about something like whether your Mom should be allowed to continue to drive gives the caregiver peace of mind.”

The hospice has held overnight bereavement camps for children, allowing them to learn about the grief process and how people respond differently to a loved one’s death. Volunteers also follow up with bereaved families for a year after the loved one’s death.

“A person who is grieving often replays what happened, berating themselves with thoughts like, ‘I wish I had said this. I wish I had done that.’ Sharing with them that that’s common helps them heal as they learn they’re not alone,” Wild said.

 Hospice volunteers have also helped survivors hold ritual memorial services honoring departed friends.

One group, for instance, wrote messages to the departed loved one and sent them up with balloons.  Another cooked a favorite meal in their friend’s memory, sharing recollections of their friend over that meal.

Every Christmas the hospice also invites past clients to a Hospice Memorial Tree Lighting ceremony in downtown Ketchum honoring the memory of loved ones.

With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, Wild says demand for services will continue to grow.

“This community does such a good job of supporting youth. We need to do a better job of supporting seniors,” she added.

Fallowfield says it’s a blessing to be there for those in need.

 “And it’s so important to be there,” she added. “It’s hard but death is a part of life and we have to accept it.”

Want to learn more? Call 208-726-8464 or visit www.hpcwrv.org.


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