Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hospice has an important role in our community

Photo by Rindi White
Eva Colberg and Helen Munoz volunteered at the
hospice tree at Palmer's Koslosky Building.
When Valley Hospice asked me to do some writing for them, I used the opportunity to take a closer look at this long-standing Valley organization and came away impressed with their commitment to caring for a sector of the community that is sometimes overlooked. - Rindi White

The holiday season is upon us, bursting as ever with good cheer, long to-do lists and generous deeds from friends or strangers that remind us this is truly the season of giving.

It’s also the season of thankfulness – for time shared with family, for a chance to reflect on the events of the last year and the milestones achieved. For many Mat-Su families it’s a time to remember loved ones who have passed on and won’t be celebrating this holiday season. And for some families it’s a time to be thankful for every moment spent with a relative nearing the end of his or her life.

Valley Hospice Resources helps dozens of families each year as they care for loved ones living out their last days. The group is a Mat-Su based nonprofit that got its start nearly 30 years ago when three local nurses saw a need for the kind of care hospice provides.

“Some people are afraid of the word ‘hospice’,” said Valley Hospice chair Pat Karella. “We strive to make every day you have as good as possible; to live until you actually die.”

Being told you have a terminal illness is a chance to reprioritize your life, she said.

Valley Hospice Resources partners with Mat-Su Regional Home Health and Hospice, a program run by Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. The program is certified to accept Medicare and offers nursing and respite care for hospice patients and their families.

Making life more enjoyable
Valley Hospice Resources supplements Mat-Su’s care with programs aimed at enriching the hospice experience. One such program provides palliative art for patients. Artist-in-residence Sandra Falkner Chandler visits patients and their families and designs art projects to meet their needs.

“It’s strictly for the patient, to create empowerment,” Chandler said. “They can talk about something that is not their illness.”

Chandler also helps patients make hand-painted Christmas cards to give family members and friends. Many patients also make cards for Valley Hospice to sell to fund future hospice programs. Chandler said the cards are available at Carrs stores and at the Wasilla and Palmer Light Up a Life hospice trees.

Telling the story of hospice
The hospice trees, available at the Koslosky Building in downtown Palmer and at Meta Rose Square in Wasilla through Dec. 24, are the primary fundraiser for Valley Hospice.

But it’s more than just a fundraiser. People can stop by and purchase an angel or star to place on the tree with the name of a loved one who has passed away. At 2 p.m. January 8, Valley Hospice will hold a Gathering of Remembrance ceremony at the Palmer Depot where the names on the hospice trees will be read aloud.

The group also holds a yearly community event aimed at helping people better understand end-of-life issues and it coordinates the Mat-Su Grief Support Group, which meets Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Trinity Barn. It’s a place where people who have experienced the death of a loved one can go to share their experience and receive support.

Sandra Wagenius facilitates the grief group and is a hospice chaplain, serving the needs of both hospice patients and their families.

 “The most important thing is just to be there and listen,” she said.

Wagenius knows the benefits of hospice from both sides. Before she became a hospice chaplain, she and her husband cared for their daughter, Kibby, as she battled multiple sclerosis. Kibby passed away seven years ago. The family relied on hospice care during the final year of Kibby’s life. Wagenius said it was vital for her family during that trying time.

“I can’t do anything but praise hospice. It went like clockwork from the very first day,” she said. “They think of the littlest things.”

Looking to the future
Valley Hospice has deep roots in Mat-Su and is striving for big goals in the near future. Top on the list is a hospice house – a place for Valley residents for whom receiving hospice care at home might not be possible or preferable.

A February 2011 McDowell Group study of senior showed there is currently a need for 11 hospice beds in the Valley. That number is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

While many hospice patients are served in the comfort of their own homes, not everyone who needs care is eligible to receive it. Patients must have a 24-hour caregiver to qualify for hospice care.

Karella said staying home is sometimes not the best option for patients. Perhaps an elderly couple has been caring for each other and suddenly one is too sick to care for the other. Both could temporarily move to the hospice house, she said. And unfortunately, hospice patients are sometimes young, with small children. Staying home might be more disruptive than comforting.

A hospice house would address these and other needs, she said. However, there are hurdles to reaching that goal.

“It’s not just the cost of building a house – that’s the easy part. But we need the community to step up and provide an endowment large enough to allow us to care for people effectively,” she said.

That’s where you come in. Valley Hospice Resources is a non-profit organization so all donations are tax-deductable. They’re also affiliated with Alaska’s Pick-Click-Give website, so it’s possible to give a portion of your Alaska Permanent Fund dividend next year.

Need to add a few more tax deductions this year? Donate with a credit card through the Network for Good. Find a link under “make a donation” at Valley Hospice’s website, Or send a check or money order to Valley Hospice Resources at 1150 S. Colony Way, Suite 3, PMB 349, Palmer, AK 99645.

Need more information? Email them at

No comments: