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Hospice seeks volunteers, funding
The board of Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County is restructuring its operations to ensure greater efficiency. Among those at the board’s Wednesday, Dec. 10 meeting are Pam Gates, President Eileen Damian, Lee Chatfield, Bruce Busch and Executive Director Sue Hynes. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
For the first time in its 32-year history, Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County is dipping into “its reserves” to pay the monthly bills.
Board member Pam Gates was quick to note the current circumstance isn’t life-threatening for the organization, but it is painful. She said that the hospice, like many nonprofit organizations, is enduring “a perfect storm” of unfavorable circumstances. Interest rates are so low the organization’s cash holdings are producing virtually no income, Gates said.
Board member Bruce Busch noted that at the same time demand for its services has leapt. When former Executive Director Rose Crumb retired in July 2009, the hospice had 60 patients, he said. Now the organization has an average of 100 patients. In recent weeks the number has been as high as 120.
The hospice never bills for its services.
As a result, “we’re spending in excess of what we’re taking in,” Busch said.
The budget for 2010 is approximately $400,000, with three quarters of that spent on salaries.
Mileage reimbursement for those who deliver equipment is another major line item, topping $22,000 in 2010. The hospice lends equipment, including delivery and pickup, to anyone in need.
It serves patients “from Joyce to Diamond Point,” Busch noted.
Economy having an impact
The organization’s funding is raised through various charity events and through “memorials” — donations given in memory of a recently departed loved one. Busch noted that in 2009 the organization received $241,000 in memorials. Through September 2010 the hospice has received $94,000 in memorial funds.
Board president Eileen Gates said the current poor economy has reduced the ability of many county residents to give. But she also said there are many other ways to help the organization, particularly by volunteering. “We can use their time,” she said.
Busch agreed, saying “We really need more volunteers. Our front office is understaffed.”
Busch said the organization is restructuring to operate more efficiently. “We’re developing procedures to operate like a business, but with compassion.”
Executive Director Sue Hynes said that volunteering also can provide benefits to those who give their time. “We can teach new skills” that are useful in finding work, she said.
One of a kind
Gates said Volunteer Hospice is “a unique animal.”
Nationally, there are two kinds of hospice organizations, social and medical. “We’re one of the few volunteer services that uses a medical model,” she said.
The organization has four full-time and three part-time nurses on staff. These health professionals are available to assist clients and their caregivers 24 hours a day, with an “emphasis on symptom and pain management,” Gates said.
Hospice volunteers are used to provide “time off” for caregivers and the families of those who are dying.
The hospice also offers other services, including counseling, both before and after the death. In March 2011, Volunteer Hospice also will hold a series of meetings in Sequim for those who are grieving. The Grief Support Program consists of two-hour sessions held weekly for five weeks.
The hospice’s education programs are open to patients, families, friends and anyone in the community who wants to learn more about “promoting attitudes toward death and dying as a positive creative dimension in the continuation of life,” Hynes said.
The issues surrounding death are “mental, spiritual and social,” Hynes said. “Our nurses and volunteers work with all of these.”
The staff at Volunteer Hospice also can provide assistance in finding the right area agencies to help with specific issues. “We are working closely with Assured Hospice, too,” said Hynes. Assured is a Sequim-based for-profit hospice.
Busch said he became involved with Volunteer Hospice when he was taking care of his wife, Dottie, who died five years ago from throat cancer.
“If it wasn’t for hospice, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I probably would have died of stress. We had 24/7 nursing care (available on-call), equipment, respite volunteers .... If my wife had been in the hospital, the first time she hit that button they would have come immediately. But the second or third ...
“This isn’t to criticize the hospital, but it isn’t staffed to be there for somebody who is dying. They’re there to help people who are getting better.”
Gates said the same is true of long-term nursing care. “They have no staff for support of the dying,” she said. And they usually don’t provide pain management, she noted.
“We have the most dedicated nurses. They’re there for the patients. They give 100 percent.”
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.