Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Honored to Serve Veterans More Than 37 Years

Every day our nation's military service men and women answer the call to service to protect our freedoms. In honor of Veterans Day, we join fellow Americans in giving thanks and appreciation to veterans.

The Tampa Bay area is home to the second highest population of veterans ages 55 and older. There are more than 85,000 veterans living in Pinellas County, which has one of the largest concentrations of WWII veterans in the U.S.

Specialized Veterans Care

We’re privileged to serve veterans across our spectrum of care and services. About one quarter of our Suncoast Hospice patients are veterans. Our Suncoast Hospice veterans program is currently ranked as a Level 3 Partner of We Honor Veterans, a program of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Our mission is to help our veteran patients feel acknowledged and honored for their service, find comfort and peace through our care and access resources and services for them and their families.

Our veteran relations liaison, Laurel “Daphni” Austin, connects veterans and their families to our care and other support they need. Our teams provide compassionate care with a specialized focus on resolving veterans’ internal struggles and conditions related to their military service. Many community veterans volunteer helping carry out our mission. This past fiscal year, our veteran volunteers provided more than 500 support visits at our patients’ homes, our care centers and other facilities.

Community Support & Honors

Another impactful part of our veterans program is how we band together with VAs (veterans affairs), VSOs (veterans service organizations) and community organizations to support and honor veterans.
Ruth Hartley & Daphni Austin at Honor
Flight Send-off in Clearwater

One of our special stories is Suncoast PACE participant and Navy veteran Ruth Hartley’s life-changing Honor Flight of West Central Florida trip to the Washington D.C. war memorials. Ruth, 80, is one of about ten veterans who stay active, healthy and independent living at home with the help of Suncoast PACE, a program of Suncoast Hospice. Suncoast PACE provides comprehensive health care and support services to Pinellas County seniors with chronic health conditions at its day center and medical clinic and participants' homes.

Ruth and her late husband, Jack, enlisted and met in the Navy. She specialized in aerography and served with the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during the Korean War era. Back then married women weren’t allowed in, so she had to get out after marrying Jack and they moved to England and started a family while he continued to serve.

Going on Honor Flight was a high honor for Ruth. “It was a wonderful trip. Our group saw all the monuments – the Korean War was just beautiful and the WWII was absolutely breathtaking. I learned a lot and it made me proud to be an American. I think every veteran should go,” Ruth said.

Collecting veterans’ stories for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project is another meaningful way we honor veterans. Our staff and volunteers have recorded 30 veteran interviews, including our patients and others, for the library’s archives.

A 92-year-old female veteran who served in Normandy proudly shared her story during an interview with Jim Blincoe, a Suncoast Hospice Care Center North Pinellas and veteran volunteer, and Melissa MorĂ©, Suncoast Hospice volunteer programs coordinator.  

Jim said, “She was a natural born storyteller and had such a memory. She was one of the first women to join up and volunteer to go overseas. Her scrapbook was out of this world. When she finished the interview she said she felt so much better. It was quite an experience for us. It’s the human part of history that you don’t get reading in a textbook.” 

Is your loved one a veteran in need of care? Call 727-467-7423 to learn more about our veterans care.

Want to serve veterans? Sign up online to volunteer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Restoring Comfort & Peace at Care Centers

By Suncoast Hospice Physician Susan Wehr, MD

Dr. Susan Wehr
There are times when our hospice patients’ pain and symptoms become too uncontrollable to manage or resolve at home. That’s when they can benefit from a stay at our care centers.

24/7 Care Expertise

We have three care centers in Palm Harbor, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg (inside Bayfront Health St. Petersburg hospital). Our care center teams provide expertise, support and compassion to our patients and families. We’re there 24 hours a day to stabilize, manage and monitor our patients’ severe pain and acute symptoms, bringing them relief so they can return home. Our teams also teach patients, families and caregivers about medication regimens to help them feel more confident managing their symptoms at home.

Just like our home teams, we have a team approach to care at our care centers. Working together are our nurses, aides, therapists, social workers, spiritual care coordinators and volunteers as well as physicians on call. We provide pain and symptom management, psychosocial support, spiritual care, wound and infection care, assistance and companionship.

Our on-call nurses or home teams can assess patients for care center stays. Our hospice admissions team assesses patients who are new to hospice or staying in hospitals. There's no limit to the number of stays at our care centers. When it’s time for patients to go home, our care center and home teams make sure they have all the medications and supplies they need and the transitions are as smooth as possible. Our goal is to achieve better quality of life for patients so they can enjoy their time back home.

Comfort & Peace

A patient room at Care Center South Pinellas
Our care center teams can handle a wide variety of symptoms. We had one woman who came to stay with us who had fainted and vomited at home. She wasn’t able to hold down food. We gave her a regimen of medications to control her pain and vomiting. She was happy our care center could accomplish that for her.

Lots of support and special touches make the care center stays homelike and comfortable for patients and families. Patients stay in private rooms with space for families to visit and stay overnight. Our volunteers provide a wonderful array of services that add to patients’ comfort. Some volunteers visit with their specially-trained pets, practice Reiki energy work and simply spend time talking and listening. One of our special touches is a blanket warmer donated by our community; a warm blanket is so comforting for our patients.

Job Satisfaction

My favorite part of my job at the care centers is the team work. I love working at the care centers because they are places where I can watch the changes we make rapidly take effect. What makes me the happiest is when we can restore quality of life for our patients.

Dr. Susan Wehr has worked for seven years with Suncoast Hospice including care center teams, home teams and palliative care consults at Bayfront hospital. She currently works at our Care Center South Pinellas. She is board certified in hospice and palliative care.

Want to know more about Suncoast Hospice care? Call us at 727-467-7423 or request info online.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Suncoast Hospice Cares for the Whole Family

Regional Program Director Chip Cosper
When many people think about hospice care, they may focus on the medical care – the attention to a patient’s physical needs. But at Suncoast Hospice, services and programs address the many needs of patients, family members and caregivers as they face the end-of-life experience together.

Chip Cosper, M.DIV. has been involved with hospice care for many years, first with a for-profit organization in Richmond, Va. and since 2002 with Suncoast Hospice. At Suncoast, he started as a chaplain on a home care team, moved to the education department and, for the last 4-1/2 years, has been a regional program director supervising the managers of four care teams based in St. Petersburg.

Terminal Illness Affects Everyone

Chip notes that as hospice patients go through their final transitions, loved ones are experiencing every stage of the process – learning of a terminal illness, anticipatory grief and the dying process – with them.

“Whether it’s socially, spiritually or physically, an illness has a huge impact on families,” Chip said. “I think family members are sometimes surprised by the emotional aspects of terminal illness. I’ve seen family members of [gravely ill] patients be surprised when their loved ones take a turn for the worse. There's that piece of denying that death will occur, right up until the end.”

Chip notes that it's often the loss of control that bothers patients and loved ones the most. He pointed out the various stages of illness, as a patient moves from being fully capable, to needing a walker, to depending on a wheelchair, to being bedridden. “We’re all control freaks in our own way, and when you see somebody dealing with an issue of loss, what he or she really is losing is control,” he said.

This loss of control impacts family members, who experience a reduction of their own independence as they step in to provide support. They also experience grief as they watch someone they care about diminish in physical and emotional health and capacity.

Expert Care & Support from Care Teams

Suncoast Hospice provides a wide range of professionals and volunteers to help patients and loved ones. Physicians and nurse practitioners provide physical care, medication oversight and crucial information over the course of a patient’s care, which can take place in care centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities or patients' homes. The nursing staff also provides education to families about the physical manifestations of an illness and how to be prepared for decisions that are going to need to be made along the way.

Counselors are available to talk with people about advance directives and help them get their affairs in order before decisions actually need to be made, which should always be the case (but seldom is). “This is definitely a better conversation to be had over dinner than during the depths of a health crisis,” Chip said. “We’re a death-denying society but it’s important that folks talk about their wishes with loved ones before they are no longer able to make those decisions themselves.”

Others at Suncoast Hospice who look after the “whole family” include hospice aides, who offer direct physical care; chaplains, who attend to the spiritual and emotional needs of people of all different faiths (or no faith); and the fabulous volunteers, who are trained to provide a wide range of services, from respite care and pet and aromatherapy, to running errands, making check-in phone calls and performing Reiki. Chip reports the teen volunteer program does some really amazing work, including producing Lifetime Legacy videos of patients telling their life stories for the families to enjoy for years to come.

“What's most important about our work is that our entire team is there for those in need,” Chip said. “We walk beside them as they deal with all their changes and losses. I encourage people to learn more - through our website or a phone call to someone in Admissions – before the hospice process starts. We have a lot of resources that can help.”

Turning to Suncoast Hospice isn't giving up, it's getting help. Call us for more info at 727-467-7423 or go online to request services.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet New Suncoast Hospice Foundation Executive Director, Kathy Rabon

Kathy Rabon,
Our Suncoast Hospice Foundation has a longtime legacy of support to the compassionate care we provide in our community. Honored to lead and carry on our foundation’s important work is new executive director Kathy Rabon. Kathy brings a wealth of fundraising and volunteer service experiences along with a big heart for our mission and community.

Kathy Rabon is a third-generation Tampa Bay resident who has lived, attended college and worked here all her life. She majored in Journalism at Florida Southern College and Nonprofit Studies at Eckerd College, has earned her Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) accreditation through the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Certificate in Fundraising Management (CFRM) through the University of Illinois School of Philanthropy, and Certification in Organizational Management from the University of Georgia, meaning she has committed herself to the highest levels of ethical standards and fundraising best practices. 

Previous posts she has held include the Vice President of Development and Communications at the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, Executive Director of the Ruth Eckerd Hall Foundation, and CEO and President of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to a full work schedule, Kathy has an astounding list of volunteer involvements, serving as volunteer, advisor, board member and/or chair for local, national and international groups including the Association of Junior Leagues International, United Nations Association of the USA, For the Girls, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, Leadership Tampa Bay, Rotary Club of Clearwater, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and many more. 

Her volunteer and professional efforts have not gone unrecognized. Awards have included the YWCA Tribute to Women in Tampa Bay Award, Soroptimist International Women Honoring Women Award, the Community Volunteer and Volunteer of the Year awards from the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin, and Outstanding Alumni Award from Leadership Pinellas.

We thought you might enjoy getting to know her better – in her own words:

What brought you to the world of health/hospice care?
Suncoast Hospice enjoys an incredibly wonderful reputation in our community and I consider it an honor and a privilege to be associated with its good work. On a personal note, I have been touched twice by our services, once when my grandmother passed away in the mid-1990s in home care, the other time when my mother-in-law passed away two years ago at the Mid County Care Center. We felt blessed by the caring people who helped us through these difficult times.

Why is your work so important? How hard is it to “sell” the importance of ensuring hospice services are available in perpetuity?
The work of the Foundation is imperative to ensuring individuals receive care and compassion during the most difficult time in their lives. We ensure everyone has the opportunity to live their life as they choose and with as little pain as possible. There is no need to try and “sell” the good work of hospice, especially Suncoast Hospice. Almost everyone in our community has been personally touched by the caring people of this organization. They know its reputation for excellence and respect it as one of the top charitable organizations in the area. All one has to do is share a simple story and people want to give.

An acquaintance shared with me last week that his grandmother was battling a terminal illness and was in the hospital. The doctors and nurses had tried everything they possibly could to keep her comfortable but she continued to be very, very agitated. Finally a hospice care person came in, wrapped a baby blanket around a towel like an infant and placed it in her arms. She immediately cuddled the “baby” and her agitation ceased. He said it was so beautiful! I can’t tell you how many heartfelt stories like this I have heard in my first three months here.

What are some of the ways that people can support the Suncoast Hospice Foundation?
Very simple: share a story about hospice. Listen to other people’s stories. Introduce us to people you think would feel good about giving to help others. People love to know they are helping others!

Have you received any professional recognition/awards recently?
It wasn’t recent, but one of my greatest honors was being recognized for community leadership by carrying the Olympic Torch on its way to the Atlanta games.

Do you have a family? Pets?
My husband, Bruce and I have been married for 36 years and were high school sweethearts. We have two sons, Chad, 32, and Casey, 29, and two grandsons. Bruce and I have four kittens, two that are almost a year old and two new ones that are three months old. We also have been adopted by a great white heron that comes to our back door every day for food. He prefers hot dogs and likes them gently warmed in the microwave. His name is Dave.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to run – I’m currently training for the Chicago marathon in October, working out at Orange Theory, gardening – primarily orchids, riding bikes to the beach, and people-watching.

Given Kathy’s vast fundraising experience – with 30 years as a volunteer and more than 20 years as a professional – and passion for the cause, we are very happy to welcome her to the Suncoast Hospice family.

Learn more about the Suncoast Hospice Foundation.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Ingrid Watt

Positive energy flows strongly around long-time Suncoast Hospice volunteer Ingrid Watt, who has devoted 21 years of time and passion to Suncoast Hospice. And over the last eight years Ingrid has helped guide life force energy through countless hospice patients by practicing Reiki.

Ingrid has always felt it is important to volunteer - it was her mother who taught her the importance of giving back to the community. “My mother was a person who did so much for everybody,” she said. 

She became a volunteer In 1992. For many years she would go to patients’ homes, sit with them, read to them, comfort them, run errands for them, and transport them to doctors’ offices.

Eight years ago, Suncoast Hospice offered a Reiki course and Ingrid was intrigued. She took a series of training classes and now is a Reiki Master allowing her to teach the practice to other volunteers. Ingrid continues to volunteer with patients through her Reiki practice.

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes pain relief and healing. Practitioners administer Reiki by using their hands (either touching or hovering above the patient) to guide life force energy through parts of the body’s energy field where the flow has been disrupted; beneficial effects include relaxation, and feelings of peace, security and well-being.

“When I’m doing Reiki, I touch a patient or just above them, Ingrid said. “I can feel a tingling in my hand. Patients feel the warmth and the comfort. They are always asleep when I leave.”

Ingrid says patients often enjoy pain relief, sometimes for hours after she’s been there. Ingrid has also been trained in Transition, meaning she’s there when patients die. When it’s okay with the family, Ingrid will do Reiki as a patient transitions and she says it helps to relieve stress and help them go in peace.

Even though she has had to say goodbye to so many patients – many of whom became good friends along the way – Ingrid has never felt that working with hospice patients is depressing.

“You wouldn’t believe the wonderful stories patients tell about their children, their grandchildren, their lives,” Ingrid said. “But even the patients who had sad things happen in their lives … it helps them to have someone to talk to. Patients may not talk to friends because they don’t want them to feel sorry for them. But they talk to me and that helps them feel better.”

Ingrid can’t say enough about how much volunteering with Suncoast Hospice has meant to her. “Next to family and friends, hospice is the most important thing to me,” she said. “I don’t even know how many patients I have helped over the last 21 years. I have letters and cards from family members thanking me. The people – the patients and families that I have met – have enriched my life so much.”

Now three of Ingrid’s dearest friends volunteer at Suncoast Hospice too; one of them has also become a Reiki Master. “I just feel blessed and thankful there is an organization like this.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Suncoast Hospice, click HERE.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teen Volunteer Open House: A Life Changing Opportunity

For over twenty years, the Suncoast Hospice Teen Volunteer Program has mentored thousands of teen volunteers who have provided support to our organization volunteering in resale shoppes, at our special events, community outreach projects, and with patients and families. Besides offering teen volunteers a variety of opportunities in which to earn service hours, we hope to provide them with learning experiences that will help shape their perceptions, goals, and lives. 

The Suncoast Hospice Teen Volunteer Program recently collected stories, and recollections from former teen volunteers and their words clearly illustrate how life-changing volunteering at Suncoast Hospice can be for high school students.

Zameera Fida, a young woman who volunteered with Suncoast Hospice in the late 1990’s, shared “after working with the hospice patient population, I learned that life is short and I can’t be afraid to work hard and get what I want out of life…I gained the confidence to learn how to be a leader which helped me excel in college and in dental school.”  Zameera is a Pediatric Dentist at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Ben Lo, who graduated in 2004, stated that “Hospice both sparked and continued to reaffirm my interest in medicine during my teenage years and all the way into adulthood. I was provided with extraordinary patient care experiences and surrounded by great people that have helped shape the person I am today.”  Ben is a Resident Physician in Emergency Medicine. 

While these former teen volunteers used what they had learned to inform their medical careers, other former teen volunteers felt their volunteer work just gave them a solid foundation for how to live their life. 

Shaleek Bradford, a 2010 graduate who now volunteers with Suncoast Hospice as an adult, shared that “the time I have spent volunteering has brought me a whole new outlook on life and has allowed me to experience many different things that I will take with me forever, and share with others. I really recommend anyone, whether they are a teen or adult to volunteer with Suncoast Hospice.” 

Heena Khoja, a 2011 graduate interested in pursuing work in non-profit management, shared that Suncoast Hospice “prepared me to deal with the challenges of working with the elderly and to understand the difficulties that this group faces. When visiting Alzheimer’s or dementia patients in high school, I never knew what to say or how to act, but the experience gave me valuable insight, especially with my own grandfather being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within the last year.” 

All of these former teen volunteers had transformational experiences, and they are not the exception!

If you or a teen in your life would like to become a part of our amazing program, come and discover more at our Teen Volunteer Open House on Tuesday, September 2, 6 pm-7:30 pm at our Community Service Center in Clearwater. All teen volunteer opportunities offered at this event will be for Mid-Pinellas County (Clearwater, Largo, Seminole, Pinellas Park).  All teens must be 14 years of age or older and entering 9th grade in order to volunteer. A parent/guardian must accompany their teen to the Open House.

Contact Jill Fowler, teen volunteer coordinator, at 727-523-3431 or jillannefowler@thehospice.org if you have any questions. Don’t miss out on this fun, informational evening. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Suncoast Hospice Volunteer Featured in Inspirational Book

Suncoast Hospice volunteer Judy Gauron has found great joy in her work with Suncoast Hospice patients, particularly when she had her beloved dog, Preston, by her side.

Judy began her volunteer work with Suncoast Hospice on the administrative side, but decided she would prefer to work directly with patients. Friends asked whether she found spending time with the sick or dying depressing but she never felt that way. "Being with someone who is dying is a privilege. I get tremendous satisfaction, and I love doing something that improves the quality of people's lives," she said.

Although at first Judy was apprehensive about working with patients she found that teaming with her rescued greyhound, Preston, helped her to overcome her nervousness and definitely made a positive impact on the patients. She found that even the most stoic adults would soften in the presence of the dog; he brought great happiness to so many during his travels throughout the halls of the Suncoast Hospice Care Centers.

After five and a half years of service, Preston became ill with bone cancer, which is somewhat common among greyhounds. When medications could no longer lessen his pain, Judy and her husband, Karl, decided it was time to let Preston depart on his next journey.

Preston and Judy's inspirational tale, titled "Happy Tails to You," was featured in national bestselling author Will Bowen's 2013 book "Happy Stories," a compilation of 50 real-life inspirational stories from around the world. In "Happy Stories," Bowen introduces readers to parents, kids, business people, students, retirees, nonprofit directors and volunteers, and others from all walks of life who are so happy that they were nominated by others to be included in the book.

Even though it's just five pages, "Happy Tails to You" packs a powerful emotional punch. Judy gives so much of herself so that others can feel better in their last days; her affection for Preston, who offers affection indiscriminately, along with many doggy kisses; and sadness as Judy and Karl bid Preston goodbye.

We are so grateful to volunteers like Judy, who practice compassion and find fulfillment in working with people who are making their life's transition. Whether volunteers choose to work directly with patients and families or in another role, they can make a big difference in someone's life - including their own. For more information about volunteering at Suncoast Hospice, click here.

"Happy Stories" is available for purchase on Amazon