Hospice agency marks 30 years

This fall, Community Hospice Care celebrated 30 years serving Seneca County and surrounding areas, and Executive Director Rebecca Shank said the hospice industry has changed and adapted during those years in ways she never could have imagined.

Shank, who has served as executive director for 23 years, said Community Hospice Care has experienced better care for patients, especially in terms of safety, and growth in personnel, volunteers and outreach programs.

According to Community Hospice documents, the organization was founded in 1983 by Anita Gaydos, who wanted to create a local hospice to provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual care of terminally ill patients and their families.

At that time, the idea of hospice was fairly new in the United States, and a great deal of planning, training and preparation was required before the agency was incorporated as a non-profit organization to serve Seneca County.

Originally, Community Hospice Care was located in two offices in Mercy Tiffin Hospital, Shank said, and later moved to St. Francis Home. Eleven years ago, the agency moved to its 8,000-square-foot building at 181 E. Perry St., which she said has allowed it to expand outreach programs and patient services.

The location allows Community Hospice to be centrally located within its radius of care, which reaches throughout Seneca County and into southwest Huron County and Willard, she said.

Shank said Community Hospice is contracted with every long-term care center, group home and assisted living facility, and the Seneca County Opportunity Center, in addition to providing traditional home care.

The agency’s staff now includes 19 people, including registered nurses, state-tested nurse aids, a pharmacist and physician, a social worker, a minister and office personnel. When the agency was founded, she said, it employed five or six people.

Shank said providing hospice care requires a special commitment and dedication to patient care, well-being and comfort.

“RN burnout is three years in hospice,” Shank said, because dealing continually with death and dying can weigh heavily on caregivers. Hiring and keeping trained, qualified and trustworthy people remains a priority and a challenge at Community Hospice, she said, because employee standards and turnover are high.

Another continuing challenge for Community Hospice is the number of mandates and regulations with which hospice caregivers are expected to comply, Shank said. She said every hospice care provider in the state is required to meet certain mandates, and Community Hospice “takes (those mandates) and makes them the best they can.” She said the agency tries to go beyond providing basic services for the community.

Shank said after Community Hospice became a Joint Commission accredited agency in 1996, its quality and safety standards became more stringent. Being accredited, she said, is “very important in the hospice care industry,” but also is “very costly.”

Shank said a unique and beneficial aspect of Community Hospice Care is the agency’s ability to provide services and “never bill a patient or family for that service.” She said because Community Hospice is funded through United Way, it is able to “offer extra services” other hospice providers can’t supply.

One program offered by Community Hospice which has become a popular resource for many families is the Children’s Grief Camp, Shank said. The camp is offered annually during the summer for children ages 5-15, she said, and addresses loss of all kinds. For children, grieving can include not only death and illness, but divorce, robbery, loss of security or safety, or the loss of pets, Shank said.

To help meet the financial needs of Community Hospice, Shank said she has seen a drastic increase in fundraising events during her time as executive director. The agency, she said, has grown from two fundraisers per year to having “something every month.” Those fundraisers, she said, include the Hospice Waddle, Add-a-Bow, the Baumann auto raffle and an annual garage sale.

Volunteer involvement has increased from 30 original volunteers to 150, Shank said, calling them an integral part of Community Hospice.

Shank said many of the agency’s brochures now are offered in Spanish, and interpreters also are offered for patients for whom English is not a primary language.

“We want to meet the needs of those people,” she said.

Community Hospice also has begun an outreach program in local churches called the “Watchman Program,” has a speakers bureau, prints an education booklet for families who help provide care at home, and runs a “loaning closet” for the sharing of medical necessities and supplies.

With competition a more significant factor for the agency, Shank said promoting the agency has become a significant part of the budget.

Shank said Community Hospice seeks creative ways of advertising, including networking with other professionals in the area to maximize outreach, to help the agency stand out in the community as an excellent provider of hospice care.

Advancements in technology, Shank said, also have had a substantial impact on hospice care, which Shank said has been positive and negative. Increased convenience is an obvious benefit of technological advancements, she said, but that convenience can come at the price of employee distraction and added regulatory issues.

Ironically, she said, when Community Hospice was founded, Anita Gaydos said she hoped to never utilize a fax machine at the agency’s office. However, as the industry began to change and communication evolved, Shank said purchasing a fax machine quickly became a necessity to keep up with the demands.

Shank said based upon developments over the past 30 years, she can’t imagine what the future will bring. She said she expects to see an increase in hospice care mandates, increased costs and more difficulty finding professionals in the field.

Shank said she expects to see more clinical trials of medications and an increase in investigational drugs and treatment options, and hopes those options will lead to a better quality of life for hospice patients.

She also said many unknowns are on the horizon with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In the meantime, Shank said she remains focused on the idea of Community Hospice as “a concept of care, not a place.”

She said many people don’t realize, Community Hospice isn’t a live-in treatment facility, and doesn’t care only for homebound patients. The staff at Community Hospice, she said, encourages patients to remain engaged in activities as circumstances allow and live their lives as fully as possible.

To provide excellent hospice care for patients and families, Shank said, “you have to love what you do.”

For Shank and Community Hospice Care, “it’s a life mission.”