BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – You’d think after 30 years things would change a lot, but Lee County Health Department’s Hospice program has stuck to its core values for three decades.
Former LCHD administrator Julie Schilling said the philosophy of the hospice department has been to provide support to not only those in need, but their caregivers, family members, and significant others.
“We have a philosophy here to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support to family members and significant others,” she said. “It’s very much based on family and caregiver needs and support for them.”
The program started in 1989 under the leadership of Lee County Health Department’s Board of Health, Lee County Supervisors, and area doctors.
Schilling said the program was born out of a need for medicare-certified hospice services in the area. She said there were a few other groups in the state looking at doing the same thing, but patients and families were looking for end-of-life support and care in Lee County.
“We had a medicare-certified home care program and we were receiving calls and questions about us being able to provide hospice services,” Schilling said from the LCHD offices in Fort Madison Thursday.
People were asking for us to provide that extra care. With our established certified home care program, we were encountering people who would qualify for hospice in the home, but we didn’t have a medicare certified program.”
She said the board of health went to work to get the government certification, a process that she said was time consuming. A hospice team was quickly assembled while the certification process proceeded, comprised of medical doctors, social workers, nursing staff, chaplains, and volunteers.
Emily Biddenstadt, the LCHD’s Community Health Special Projects Manager, said volunteers account for about 80% of the hospice team.
Current LCHD administrator Michelle Ross started as a volunteer and has worked her way up to administrator.
“She’s pretty proud of the fact that she started there and was trained by Julie as a hospice volunteer, became a social worker, then community health director, and now administrator,” Biddenstadt said.
Schilling said volunteer training is an eight week course and said there was a big interest to volunteer and some of those original volunteers are still with the group.
Becky Worster, a nurse practitioner with LCHD-Hospice, said most of the volunteers with the group are people who have been touched by Hospice services at one point or another in their lives.
“Most of them, in some way, have been touched by hospice and they want to be a part of it, because they’ve seen how wonderful it is,” Worster said.
Technology hasn’t made things efficient as far as government regulations, but has reduced the time needed for contact and time of services.
“The people with cellphones are able to respond very quickly, and backup is more readily available,” Schilling said.
With the hospice market getting more crowded, LCHD has been able to continue to be a regional provider in Iowa and Illinois.
Tammy Wilson, the Financial Management Operations program director, credits that to the team’s reputation.
“I think it’s our wonderful reputation and our nurses. When we were doing this, we added up the number of years of experience that our hospice and home care staff have and it’s 285 not including volunteers,” she said.
“It takes a very special person to do this stuff. They get close to their clients, knowing they are going to lose them. It takes a toll on them.”
Biddenstadt said one of the nurses has been with the group 25 years and two others have been around more than 20 years.
She said the group just started in Lee County, but now also provides services to Des Moines, Henry, Van Buren counties in Iowa, and Hancock and Henderson Counties in Illinois. That also requires staff certifications to hold Iowa and Illinois licenses that are renewed every two years.
Testimonials are not hard to find about the hospice group’s services throughout the year.
“Words cannot express the gratitude we have for you three ladies (Margaret, Becky, Jackie) and the Lee County Hospice for being there not only for our mom but also for the family. You helped manage and work through her pain, and being there to comfort her. Making sure all her needs were met, anything she needed you made sure she had as soon as possible. You helped so much with what time she had left and eventually through to the end. It was a comfort to know each time we called, that you were there for us. Each time you were asked to check on Mom or if the family just wanted to talk, all our needs were met with such compassion.” – family of Esther Drollinger
“Thank you for the care you showed our mother and family in her final days. It is greatly appreciated. A special thank you to Patty for helping us through. It put our mind at ease to know she was there for us.” – family of Sue Ann Schmitz
“We’d like to express our sincere gratitude for the hospice care that our dad received last week. It was such a blessing to know that he was comfortable during his final days, and that we were able to be with him in a safe and peaceful environment. Jessica was wonderful, and we’re so very appreciative of this service.” – family of Joseph “Jud” Boyer
A Hospice Open House will be held on Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the office at #3 John Bennett Drive. At about 4:30 p.m., Schilling will offer a brief history and recognize the staff and board of health members.
Volunteers will also be on hand with displays showing data on the program and the Hospice Tree of Love will also be on display with a history of that program.
“We’re gonna celebrate what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past 30 years,” Biddenstadt said.