Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

New Hospice House provides sanctuary for the dying

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Jan. 17, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Last November, Hospice of Spokane, which extends compassionate care to the dying and their families, held an open house for a beautiful new facility. Dubbed Hospice House, the new 12,000-square-foot structure sits on about two acres at the corner of Seventh and Chandler on Spokane’s lower South Hill.

Were it not for the large sign outside the front entrance to Hospice House, a casual passerby might think that this is simply a very nice, rather large ranch-style home. In fact, the new facility includes 12 spacious private bedrooms with room for family to spend the night. Each bed includes a colorful handmade quilt, and each room comes with at least one hand-knitted “prayer shawl.” In addition, Hospice House was built to let landscaped outdoor areas indoors via large windows throughout.

The purpose of Hospice House is to provide an alternative when circumstances make spending one’s final days at home no longer possible or ill advised. The dream of being able to build and maintain such a facility goes back to the origins of Hospice of Spokane in the late 1970s.

People from a variety of faith backgrounds have been involved since its beginnings, and many Catholic health care professionals and other Catholics have been active in key roles since those early days. Many Catholics also support Hospice of Spokane as volunteers and Board members.

The original Hospice inpatient facility, St. Christopher’s Hospice, was established in London, England, in the early 1960s. The first such facility in the United States was established in Connecticut in 1974. From the beginning, the Hospice movement has been mainly about a philosophy of compassionate and practical care for the terminally ill and their families.

Gina Drummond is Chief Executive Officer for Hospice of Spokane. She explained that most individuals and families that Hospice of Spokane cares for will remain in their own homes or in hospitals or other care facilities. “The decision about who comes to Hospice House,” she said, “will be made based on who has the greatest need to be here.”

At any given time, about 200 people are receiving end-of-life care from Hospice of Spokane. “Today,” Drummond said, “we’re caring for about 260 people, and 11 of those are here (at Hospice House). Hospice of Spokane offers care in Spokane, Stevens, Ferry, and Ponderay (Idaho) Counties.”

For three years, Ann Hurst, a member of Spokane’s St. Aloysius Parish, has been Chaplain Manager for Hospice of Spokane. “I oversee the spiritual care department,” Hurst said, “and that includes recruiting and training (qualified) chaplains and making visits to clients and their families, doing community outreach, (including) in-service (workshops) on spiritual care at the end of life.”

Working with Hospice has had an impact on her own spirituality, Hurst said. “It certainly makes one look at (his or her) own mortality on a daily basis. I learn more about living from those I companion in their dying, about issues of forgiveness and reconciliation and how important it is to have right relationships, not just with God but with families and other important others. I think it forces you to live more in the present, to know that now is really all that you have for sure. I’m inspired by the amazing amount of courage that people have when they are in this journey.”

Hurst points out that four of the chaplains for Hospice of Spokane are Catholic deacons: Don Bentley, “Chalo” Martinez, John Ruschein-sky, and Cary Heth. “In spite of their basically full-time work with their parishes, they do a lot of extra with Hospice,” Hurst said.

“People sometimes ask how we can deal with dying people all the time,” said Hurst, “but it’s not a lot of doom and gloom. There’s a lot of joy, there’s a lot of laughter and funny things that can happen along that path. It’s not depressing work.”

Deacon John Ruscheinsky, director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, has been a Hospice volunteer since 1998 and a volunteer chaplain since 1999.

“Being a Hospice chaplain has really hit home for me,” Deacon Ruscheinsky said, “because the presence to people is a really powerful thing. I’ve learned to just be present with people and let God do what God is going to do with us, without setting any major expectations of how we’re going to do it or how we’re going to get it done. Doing the one-on-one ministry has strengthened my faith through knowing the compassion and mercy of our God. Just being present and listening has been so important. The ministry of the Hospice chaplain isn’t just for the one who is dying, it’s for the whole family, so when you’re in someone’s home you truly are reaching out to each family member in a different way.”

For about 12 years, Deacon “Chalo” Martinez, of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, has served as a volunteer with Hospice of Spokane, for the first two years as a volunteer caretaker, and since then as a chaplain.

“The impact this ministry has had on my faith,” Deacon Martinez said, “is a constant reminder that we are simply on a short journey in this world, no matter how many years one is on the planet. It helps me stay aware that each moment is precious, that every relationship is of value, and that it would be better to appreciate all relationships highly in order to avoid the last minute fretting and concerns caused by damaged relationships, no matter with whom, but especially with our Creator.”

Deacon Martinez also finds that his ministry as a volunteer Hospice chaplain helps him to be “mindful of the importance of accepting our failures (and) faults with a deep trust in God’s loving concern for each of us and his fathomless mercy and willingness to forgive us everything. Finally, I have seen the wonderful love, care, and patience on the part of the loved ones who are being left behind.”

Deacon Cary Heth, of St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley, began serving as a volunteer Hospice chaplain 10 years ago. “At first, after I was ordained,” he said, “I had grand ideas of what I would be doing, and then I’m making Communion runs to nursing homes and to patients at hospitals, and so on, and my son-in-law had cancer and died, and my wife had a mastectomy, and I started looking at Hospice and how they had been present for some of my family. So I got involved, even though I hadn’t planned it, and I’ve been at it for 10 years. I’m convinced it’s a calling from God.”

The Medical Director for Hospice of Spokane is Pierre Soffe, M.D., another member of Spo-kane’s St. Aloysius Parish, and he has held this fulltime position for five years. Dr. Soffe oversees everything having to do with medical care for all Hospice patients, and he works closely with each one’s personal physician.

“I draw inspiration,” Dr. Soffe said, “from the portrait of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel as ‘the Divine Physician,’ the one who demonstrated a particularly deep love, care and compassion for the sick and wounded and most vulnerable among us. I also think of our dear Mother Teresa who, in founding Homes for the Dying, in Calcutta, reminded us of one of the central themes of the Gospels – ‘to love as Jesus did’ – and to embrace those who are sick and dying with the greatest of care, reverence and respect for their inherent divinity as brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. This is indeed central to our ‘Mission’ at Hospice of Spokane – to honor the dignity of the terminally ill and to strive to alleviate the suffering of those we serve on all levels – physical, emotional, social and spiritual.”

“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” said Drum-mond. “I gave a talk at the Lions Club, and the biggest questions they had were, ‘Can I help if I’m not able to go to the homes?’ and ‘What can I do?’ If we can inspire people to come and find their place with us, there’s a place here for them.”

Dale Hammond is Hospice of Spokane’s Director of Development and Communications. “If someone wants to come and help,” Hammond said, “but they’re not comfortable doing direct care, they can come here and bake bread or cookies, or they can help out in the office. There are lots of ways to support the mission. Someone could come and play the piano, if that’s a gift that they have.”

“People come here at an extraordinarily vulnerable time in their lives,” said Dr. Soffe. I think we (Hospice) need to ask ourselves what is going to set us apart as far as the kind of care and the quality of care that we provide. We’re trying to address all of the issues, emotional, psychological, spiritual, in addition to (giving) the best possible medical care, and really doing that as a team. So our chaplains are a central part of the team here. We need to be taking the time to be present more than anything else, to listen to people, to their concerns, all those things. This place has a lot of laughter and tears, both.”

Drummond has the big picture in mind with regard to the impact of Hospice House on the entire Inland Northwest. “I am hopeful that the Hospice House will change the way our community sees death and the way that it has to happen,” she said; “I hope that it will reframe how (death) looks and how it feels.”

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