His deacon assignment for St. Augustine’s was to visit patients at Valley Memorial Hospital in Livermore and he noticed some patients at the end of the ward. They were terminally ill, but could not leave the hospital and return to their homes because their health insurance would be terminated if they did.
Dick started researching alternatives and discovered Hospice of Marin, which conveniently enough had received a grant to spread the word about hospice. Armed with what he learned from the Marin executive director, Dick did just that—spread the word as an evangelist for hospice care.
After lots of meetings and speeches, Hope Hospice was incorporated as a non-profit group. The first office was a card table set up in the garage of a supporter with a phone line.
For a number of years, it was an all-volunteer organization with nurses and others giving their time to serve terminally patients and their families. During that time, they provided invaluable service during my mother’s final days—helping immensely with management of symptoms and guiding the family.
Dick was on-hand last Friday to celebrate the organization’s 35th anniversary. He was joined by many staff, former staff members, past and present board members and friends. He took pride in pointing that since the organization was started, no family has ever paid 1 cent for hospice services.
Two other speakers on Friday were the long-time medical director, Dr. Peter Wong, and former executive director Helen Meier. Pete was a young oncologist trying to establish his practice when hospice volunteer nurse Joan Alford reached out to him to enlist his services. He agreed to help because the organization had no physician who could order medicine.
That started more than 30 years of service to hospice and its patients, which, at the beginning, he had a young family, was struggling to start a practice as the first oncologist in the valley (he did insurance physicals to help pay the bills) and was helped along by his wife’s salary as a Dublin school teacher. For most of the time, he volunteered his services and did not take any compensation. He was the glue critical to the organization.
Meier stepped into leadership after t leadership roles with other valley non-profits. Hope had already transitioned from a volunteer organization to one with professional nurses that accepted Medicare billing. The Medicare coverage, as frustrating as it was over the years to staff, provided a stable source of funding.
As the valley has grown and aged, the needs for hospice has grown. When I served as a board member a number of years ago, we recruited successfully recruiting Helen as executive director. If I recall correctly, a daily census of 30 patients was a goal.
Last Friday, interim executive director Bob Boehm said the census was at 76, better than 2 ½ times our goal 15 or so years ago. It is the sign of a healthy organization has lives up to its core value of caring and excellent care for both the patient and their family.
Helen related that she consistently told the staff they were engaged in “holy work.” She said she is a spiritual person, not a religious one, but regardless of our beliefs the end of life season is a “holy” one, worthy of the best and most sensitive efforts of everyone.
More tomorrow from my interview with Bob.