At Cheyenne Regional, we provide both inpatient and outpatient Hospice care—that is, end-of-life care, designed to make the process of dying more peaceful, comfortable, and dignified. Hospice care starts when an individual, in partnership with that individual’s family and physician, determines that due to the advanced nature of his or her condition or disease, that end-of-life care should be sought rather than continuing to fight for remission of the disease. Hospice care focuses on relieving symptoms, as well as providing spiritual, mental, and emotional support during the final stages of a patient’s life.
While outpatient Hospice care is provided part-time at patients’ homes, our inpatient Hospice care is provided full-time at the Davis Hospice Center here in Cheyenne. The Center is a beautifully-crafted and highly functional building that was designed to feel more like a sophisticated rustic lodge than a healthcare facility.
The original vision of the way the Davis Hospice Center would come to look and feel, belonged to the late Amy Davis, (former president of the Courtenay C. and Lucy Patten Davis Foundation) the namesake of the Center. Under the leadership of Ms. Davis, her foundation donated $8 million toward the design and decoration of the building, as well as the landscaping of the grounds. Davis’ mother had an excellent hospice experience in her last days, and Davis believed it was important to help provide such an experience for others whose lives would end in a hospice setting. Davis envisioned the Center being a beautiful, peaceful place where patients and their families could feel at home.
The entire Hospice program (inpatient and outpatient) is staffed by 34 people, including nurses, CNAs, physicians, chaplains, professional staff and leadership, as well as grounds-keeping and environmental services staff. A big part of the program’s ability to run smoothly, however, is due in large part to its extensive volunteer base of more than 120 active volunteers—a group that’s very diverse in background and skill. They fill a variety of different duties, including respite care, cooking for and sitting with patients, helping with upkeep of the Center’s gardens, assisting with activities and programs for the patients, and much more. Shirley Soto, the Volunteer Coordinator for Hospice, commented on the dedication of the volunteers.
“It’s a very tight-knit group of individuals from a variety of different backgrounds,” said Soto. “We’ve got volunteers, including retired clergy, medical staff, retired school teachers and more. A lot of our volunteers have been through the bereavement process in their own lives. It’s encouraged them to contribute their gifts and talents back to Hospice. They’re here for deeply intrinsic rewards. They do what they do because of their belief in giving back. They have such a way of relating to our patients.”
Soto added, “The volunteers at Hospice are required to go through additional training to be a volunteer for Hospice. It’s important to us that they have those additional layers of training in order to be successful in serving the patients in the environment that they’re in at Hospice. Because of that, there is a special focus and dedication on their part when they become hospice volunteers.”
The commitment to the vision of Hospice is visible in the attitudes of its employees. Sally Whelan, a nurse at the Davis Center, has been at the Center for 8 years. Her story of how she came to Hospice is a personal one. Whelan lost her father to cancer when she was a teenager, and the care that her father received during his last years, months and days, left a big impact on her and her family.
“There were nurses, CNAs and volunteers who came to our house, and they became my mother’s friends when she was going through that time. I remember them even sitting with and caring for my dad so my mom could take my sisters and me grocery shopping. It was a time that you don’t really know what you need, you can’t put it into words when you know that you’re losing somebody,” said Whelan. “Having experienced that grieving process at such a young age, when I did become a nurse, my goal was to do hospice nursing at some point.
“With Hospice care, we try to step into the world of the patient and family, find out what they need, and do what we can to fulfill that. I have a coworker that often says, ‘Hospice isn’t as much about dying as it is about living to the fullest during the time you have left.’ That’s what we try to reinforce with patients and their families. Depending on where they’re at in the disease process, we get to do some really cool things with them. There’s the normal clinical care that we provide to manage their symptoms, but then there are the emotional aspects that involve coming up with creative ways to help them make as many memories as possible in the short time they’ve got left,” she said.
Whelan shared a story about a mother who received hospice care at the Davis Hospice Center. She had two daughters in their twenties, and one of them had recently become engaged. However, due to the mother’s advanced illness, she would not be around to see her daughter get married later that year. The Hospice team talked with the family and asked what they could do to help build some special memories for them. The girls decided that they wanted their mother to go bridal dress shopping with them. The Davis Center staff coordinated a special experience for them, one that over the years has become known as a ‘Sentimental Journey.’
The ‘Sentimental Journey’ is a partnership between Hospice and the local ambulance service in town (AMR). The hospice patients and their families decide where they want to go and what they want to do. The ambulance team volunteers their time to accompany patients and their families (along with members of the Hospice team) to provide mobile healthcare for the patients while they’re away from their homes or the Davis Center.
By the end of that particular mother-daughter ‘Sentimental Journey,’ the daughter had found her dress, lots of pictures were taken of the mom with her daughters, and the Davis Center put together a scrapbook of that event for the family. “I could tell you about all kinds of things like that that have happened here,” Whelan said.
Whelan added, “One of the hardest things about doing hospice care is when a patient comes in who is already transitioning to the active dying process and we know we only have a short amount of time with them. One of our biggest desires is to get the word out in our community that when patients are able to get into Hospice sooner, those patients and their families have a better opportunity to make more memories and cherish the time they have left, while also having all of their medical needs met and symptoms more successfully managed in the meantime.”
Since not every patient is able to go on a ‘Sentimental Journey,’ due to the restrictions of their conditions, the volunteers of Hospice created another program that supports those patients right where they are, despite the mobility limitations they may face. Soto noted the creativity of the volunteers in the creation of a new program just for that population of patients.
“The volunteers recently created a program called ‘Creating Life Moments’ and they’re helping patients and their families to capture memories in real-time within the hospice patient-room setting, to help preserve those special memories—for example, framing Dad’s favorite hymn, or making a picture box or collage of Mom’s favorite recipes—so that these ‘memories’ can be created and presented to the families to hold on to,” said Soto.
In the Hospice program and at the Davis Hospice Center, every patient matters regardless of how long they receive care from the team—and their families are an important and highly valued part of that experience. Ashley Davis (no relation to Amy Davis), Clinical Director of Hospice and Palliative Care, expressed the team’s deep desire to provide support to the families of those currently in the end-of-life transition, as well as after their loved ones’ passing
“Even though some of our families have loved ones who are only patients for a few weeks, days, or even hours, we provide bereavement support services to them for 13 months after the passing of their loved ones. That’s standard for the families of every one of our patients,” said Davis.
Whelan added, “No matter how well we do our job, the grieving process still sucks. To lose someone that you love really hurts, and it impacts everybody.”
The level of care and support that patients and their families receive, both at the Davis Center and with outpatient Hospice, is directly related to the commitment and compassion of the people who work there. Davis commented on the nature of the calling that seems to be required for Hospice work.
“Turnover is very low at Hospice. Most of our staff have been here for 5, 10 or even 20 years! People often ask us, ‘How do you prevent burnout?’ and I respond that hospice really chooses you, you don’t choose hospice. If you’re here, it’s because you feel chosen for this kind of care; you get that flutter in your stomach when you walk through the doors, you just really want to be here to provide care for these patients. Our staff is very emotional and connected to what we do,” said Davis.
Dave Stratton, the Chaplain at Davis Hospice Center, shares Davis’ sentiment. “It’s truly about the patient here. Hospice is about connecting the entire team to the patient. The patient is in the center of their care, able to have their needs met. I’m very blessed to be a part of what we have here at Hospice.”
When asked what the best part of her job is, Davis confidently responded, “Giving patients the best end of life experience that we possibly can.”