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Hospice Care: Allowing Patients to Live at End of Life

November 2nd, 2015 by Amanda Huggett

When you think of Hospice, you probably think of a group of people who care for individuals with terminal illnesses. You may also think of a volunteer holding someone’s hand as they lay in bed. Bonnie Oelschlager, marketing & communications manager at Hospice of the Red River Valley, contends it’s much more than that. Hospice is really about living.

Take a patient named Dennis, for instance, who really wanted to see a Bison football game and visit an old Army buddy in his final months. The Hospice social worker arranged for Dennis to fulfill these end-of-life wishes; Dennis attended a Bison football home game with his nephew and one week later, he traveled to South Dakota to reunite with his Army friend after 50 years.


“I think the main stigma people have about hospice is that you don’t get on it until the last days,” shared Cindy, Dennis’ partner, on the Hospice blog. “You can get on hospice and have some valid times and be active. Hospice doesn’t just mean you’re in a bed.”

“Hospice allows you to live,” Oelschlager elaborated. “We help make the time they have left worth living.”

A highly trained team of professionals, including a physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurse, social worker, chaplain, certified nursing assistant and bereavement specialist, deliver intensive comfort care. Hospice also has many volunteers who offer companionship to patients and help in the office. Collectively, this team provides comfort and eases symptoms and pain for their patients and their families.

But Hospice goes beyond patient care. Hospice of the Red River Valley also provides grief resources and support groups and classes to anyone in the community struggling with the grief that accompanies a death. Each Hospice of the Red River Valley office houses a resource library that offers materials about many types of loss and terminal illness.

Hospice of the Red River Valley has grown significantly since it started in 1981. Today, they have a large service area, with presence and patients in 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota, and a staff of 200, plus more than 400 volunteers. Oelschlager says their growth has been organic—they simply go where they’re needed.

hospice fargo chamberchoiceAs a not-for-profit organization, Hospice of the Red River Valley provides services to anyone who qualifies for hospice care, regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay. They receive reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurances, as well as many fundraisers throughout the year, and through the funds generated from its resale store, Heirlooms Thrift & Gift.

Looking ahead, Oelschlager said they will continue to provide access to hospice care to our communities. She stressed the importance of completing an advance directive and encourages people to have tough conversations with their doctors and loved ones about their priorities and values at the end of life.

Hospice of the Red River Valley received the Not-for-Profit of the Year award at this year’s ChamberChoice. It’s apparent that this organization truly cares deeply about their patients, partnerships, the community and the service they provide.

Because of their work, Hospice volunteers and staff have really amazing stories. Many of them are shared on their AreaVoices blog and on their social media channels, and Oelschlager encourages you to visit these sites and educate yourself on what Hospice does in the community.

She also emphasizes the importance of knowing all your options of care early on in a diagnosis. “Every one of us will need to know about hospice care at some point. Know early, know what your options are and don’t wait for a medical crisis,” she says.

marjorie bigger photoedit

Hospice Highlights
-First patient served out of Fargo office in 1981
-Merged with Detroit Lakes Hospice in 1993, with more mergers to follow
-Heirlooms retail store opened in 2003, profits benefit Hospice
-Service area in 29 counties in MN and ND today
-Served more than 1,600 patients in 2014
-300 patients on average served a day
-200 full and part-time staff and 400-plus volunteers


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