Area hospice turns 30, looks back at history
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue Ridge Hospice has become a mainstay in the area, but it wasn't always that way. As members of the organization prepare to celebrate its 30th anniversary on June 2, they say it's important to remember the organization's beginnings and how it has impacted the community.
"It's been very good, I came into Hospice Sept 1," said Stephens City resident Robert McDonald. "... and the reason is that I have terminal cancer ... and it's been slowly catching up with me." McDonald was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and told he had six months left to live, but despite beating the odds, he did not turn to hospice care until last year.
"During the summer it got to the point where I just didn't have a lot of options left," McDonald said.
Many think of hospice care as a last resort, a choice of the dying, but Connie Clem, regional director of communications for Greenfield Senior Living, says hospice care is not that black and white.
"They serve the living," she said. "It's not just because people are dying, they [hospice] will come in and do assessments." She calls the service that hospice provides in the home "amazing."
Blue Ridge Hospice Community Liason Linda Roberts' mother was in hospice, "and I tell people it saved her life," she said.
Her mother, who was admitted to hospice under criteria of weight loss, is 100 now.
"They reviewed her at six months and discharged her," Roberts said.
Hospice is about helping people, said Helen Zebarth, co-founder of Blue Ridge Hospice Care.
"Everybody who is in end of life," said Zebarth, a nurse and teacher at Shenandoah University. She would recommend it to anyone, she said. "I would be in hospice in a minute."
"I've been trying to educate people that it's brightening life's journey ... that it isn't about killing," she said.
To qualify for hospice care through most insurance companies, Clem said, patients need a doctor's recommendation.
When Zebarth and co-founder Gail Rodgers decided to start Blue Ridge Hospice, Zebarth said, they envisioned an organization that models what Zebarth had witnessed in England's health care system, during her four years living in Germany in the 1970s.
With the late Rodgers' help, Zebarth incorporated the organization in Winchester in 1979, and they took their first patients in 1980, but waited until the first year was over before celebrating its start.
"I have to tell you it is so much more than I ever envisioned," Zebarth said. "The whole first year we had 30 patients," she said. Now, they have more than 250 every day.
According to Clem, "They want to keep them [patients] at home. They don't want them to have to go away in their last days. ... So those folks can spend their last days together."
Over the years, hospice also has branched out to include six thrift shops in Winchester, Stephens City, Front Royal, Purcellville and Berryville, all of which devote proceeds to patient care.
"They have been very economical for us," Zebarth said.
"We don't see it," said Robyn Stickley, manager of the Berryville thrift shop, "but we know that just in this shop last year, over $110,000 was netted" for hospice. Altogether, the shops netted $400,000. She said they're hoping for half a million this year.
The organization raised $349,700 through charity care last year, Roberts said, and last year it also recycled 1,029,760 pounds of clothing and shoes, 81,555 pounds of books, 10,616 tons of cardboard, 104,188 pounds of metal and donated $23,000 of merchandise in-kind to the community.
"I think, by and large, as a not for profit organization, we have the ability ... to have this patient care fund, and we've never turned anyone away, because of the patient care fund," Roberts said.
Zebarth said the organization goes above and beyond what might be considered caring for the sick.
They've taught people to play piano; they've taken patients to the Shenandoah Summer Music Theater.
Clem recalled an RN working with hospice bring a cancer patient to see "Phantom of the Opera" at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
"He wanted to wear a tux and a top had and [carry] a cane," Clem said. "It's one of the most precious things in my memory. He was so happy, he was all dressed up. He was so, so happy, and he died shortly after that."
According to Zebarth, "We've just done a lot of things that are not always seen as death-related." Hospice will "admit early so we can get to know the patients," she said. They also want to get to know the families.
"We really want to stress, wherever you are in the nation, go for not for profit," she said. "We don't want that to be an issue in our community. We definitely want to have full service for everyone in our community, no matter what their economic background. ... No matter where they live. We've had homeless people, and we've given them service."
As much as Blue Ridge Hospice has grown throughout the last 30 years, they always can use more help, in the form of donations, purchases through their thrift shops and volunteerism.
Peg Fry, who volunteers up to 25 hours a week at the Berryville thrift shop, said she was inspired to give back after watching Blue Ridge Hospice help her cousin.
"It made it nice to have hospice come in," she said. "We didn't know how to deal with that." Hospice made a tough situation much more manageable, she said.
"I would tell people that it's a wonderful organization," said Fry, who works full time for AT&T and also drives to Remington to serve on the board of directors of the Leila Rose Foundation, which she founded to help pay for medical expenses for patients who cannot afford their bills.
"It's just fun to be a part of something that's in my own community," she said. "I love being here."
In celebration of its 30 years providing service to the community, Blue Ridge Hospice is planning A Garden Party on June 2 from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at the Glen Burnie Gardens at The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. The event will include a garden tour and cocktails, music and hors d'oeuvres, dinner, a silent auction and a sky lantern release. Tickets are $150 per person. RSVP to 536-5210.
Net proceeds will benefit the Patient Care Fund of Blue Ridge Hospice.
"It was founded as a not-for-profit hospice care, and it will stay that way," Roberts said.
"It's just the love that they all have in their heart," Clem said. "It's just amazing that an organization can come together and just have that much love."
"I'm just grateful that we have them."
For more information about Blue Ridge Hospice, call 536-5210.