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Hospice of Spokane celebrates its 45 anniversary

Joan Poirier is development director and Gina Drummond is executive director of Hospice of Spokane.


By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

Forty-five years ago, Hospice of Spokane opened its doors—one of only 12 other hospices in the United States at the time.

Barb Savage, one of its five founders, described how they created a Hospice by making the path and walking on it.

"We didn't know how to get where we wanted to go but we figured it out. We really didn't know what we were doing," she said.

Another founder, Johnny Cox, said hospice was an alternate way to care for people who were dying.

His wife, Barb, frustrated as a nurse in the ICU and long-term care, "knew we could do better" in helping people who were dying.

Hospice was a new idea that was both counter-cultural and revolutionary in American health care.

"We were bringing caring for a person who was dying back into their own family with support to assure their comfort, to provide symptom management and to accompany them as they walked through the final days that for many can be scary," Johnny said.

In 1977, when Hospice of Spokane was founded, nobody knew what it was, so one of the biggest challenges was to educate physicians, nurses and the community so physicians would be comfortable to refer patients.

At first, Hospice of Spokane had enough funds to hire only two staff members, and they worried they might not make payroll.

Now, 45 years later, executive director Gina Drummond and development director, Joan Poirier, said Hospice of Spokane is well-known in the community. It has a hospice house and a staff of about 150 people—including a medical director, nurses, social workers, nurses aides, two full-time chaplains and bereavement counselors. It also has 200 active volunteers and another 100 who volunteer on occasion.

A 12-person board of volunteer trustees is responsible for governance.

Today they serve more than 2,200 patients each year and on any given day are accompanying about 300 people on their end-of-life journeys.

Gina said that hospice care brings a reminder of the importance of relationships.

"Forgiveness and gratitude are so important throughout our lives and certainly at the end," she commented. "We are reminded not to take anyone or anything for granted."

There have been many changes for Hospice through the years.

Now they receive payments for their services from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies. In the early years, there was no Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

It was such a new concept that education of the health care community—doctors, assisted living facilities, skilled-nursing homes, adult family homes and hospital social workers—was crucial so they would refer those who could benefit from the services hospice provided.

In the early years, Hospice of Spokane was the only program of its type in the region. 

Now Hospice of Spokane, Northeast Washington's only nonprofit hospice, serves Spokane, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. 

With their comprehensive staffing, they provide a holistic approach to end-of-life care, addressing the medical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of patients with terminal illnesses, along with providing support to their families.

The statistics in their latest annual report reflect their services to terminally ill people and their families in whatever setting they call home.

• They served a total of 824 patients at their hospice house.

• Their team drove 824,760 miles to serve patients.

• They served 452 veterans and paid special tribute to them with a certificate honoring their service.

• Their volunteers donated 8,671 hours to Hospice of Spokane and the patients and families served.

• Their chaplains provided 2,233 visits to patients and their loved ones of all faiths and spiritual backgrounds.

• Hospice's bereavement counselors have provided grief counseling and support to 4,407 family members and close friends of those who have been served by Hospice of Spokane during the past year.

"We still work hard to get the word out about hospice and our services," said Gina. "We give presentations wherever people ask us."

Gina told how she educates people she meets about Hospice.

"When I am in a group of people and asked what I do, I tell them what I do and about hospice. There is often a silence when I finish as people think about a loved one who died recently or a loved one they know who could benefit from our services," Gina said.

The criteria for admission to hospice are clear and enable hospice to receive per diem payment from Medicare: The person must have a less than six-month prognosis, be no longer seeking progressive or curative treatment and be interested in a palliative care plan that assures their comfort.

If Gina hears that someone might qualify for hospice care, no matter where they are living—even if they are couch surfing or homeless—she encourages people to call for a visit to have the person evaluated.

Joan explained that Hospice of Spokane is weaving its 45th anniversary into all their events this year.

On Feb. 24, they will hold a fundraising event, Taste of Life, at the historic Davenport Hotel.

Later in the year, they plan a Golf Scramble and their annual picnic honoring volunteers.

Both Gina and Joan confirmed that their message on this 45th anniversary is about community.

"We have been through a lot the last few years and we are celebrating that we have just hung in there together," they said. "We see ourselves as members of the community, working with and for the community.

"In 2023, the community is just coming out of the gloom of the pandemic and all who are in the community, especially health care partners, value our relationships and believe these are moving forward in a good way," said Gina and Joan.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2023