Special wishes fulfilled during holidays


By Ashley Horst, Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator

It’s seven days until Christmas (and six days until Hanukkah and eight days until Kwanzaa). For most people, this week will be filled with last minute shopping, gift wrapping, holiday parties and excitement for the special days to come. We will cook, clean and decorate madly as we prepare for our families and friends to join us.

For those facing end-stage illnesses, the holidays can take on new meaning as they may be the last that will be shared by all members of the family. It’s a bittersweet time that you hope is filled with sharing stories and making memories that will last long after that loved one is no longer present at the holiday table.

Hospice of the Panhandle staff and volunteers always enjoy helping families make lasting holiday memories. From bringing Santa Claus to town to getting extra special gifts, we help our patients and their families share quality time with one another along with some extra surprises.

These special moments happen for the young and the old. Volunteer coordinator Tricia Lawrence and I went out with volunteer Santa Claus Carleton DeHaven several years ago to see a woman who lived in town. She was nearly 100-years-old but was just as excited as a 5-year-old to see jolly old St. Nick! He was so sweet to her and gave her a package of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Christmas had arrived for this woman in the form of a hospice volunteer in a red pickup truck.

Another patient that Lawrence recalls is a young patient who loved country music. Our staff reached out to a few country music stars and surprised the boy with a guitar signed by Jason Aldean.

Hospice nurse Amie Burks recalls that we had worked with his family to have an early Christmas so that we knew he would get to enjoy the holiday with his family and friends. Lots of people surrounded him and shed tears of joy when he was presented with the guitar. It was a moment that this family will never forget.

It’s also a moment that Burks will never forget.

"I always think about that one and it hits me this time of year,” Burks said. "It just brings a smile to my heart.”

This year, thanks to a gift from the City of Ranson, our social workers are busy being Santa’s elves once more. They’re out buying Christmas gifts for our patients who either can’t afford them or can’t physically go to the store.

Social worker Julie Sayre shared that one special gift was requested by an elderly patient for his grandson. It’s been very important for this gentleman to have something for his grandson on Christmas Day. Thanks to the City of Ranson, there will be a wrapped gift under the tree for this boy on Sunday! It will be a memory of his grandfather to last for a lifetime.

Every year, Hospice staff and volunteers make patients’ holidays bright and memorable despite their illness. Santa is even making a special stop this year at our inpatient facility to see our patients and their families there on Wednesday.

Most often, however, we help our patients during the holidays by making them comfortable and controlling their pain and symptoms. With visits throughout the week by nurses and home health aides, social workers, chaplains, grief counselors, volunteers and 24-hour on-call support no matter the day or time, patients can remain in the comfort of their homes. Who doesn’t want to be home for the holidays?

It’s not too late for your loved one to get the medical support he or she needs to enjoy the holidays surrounded by their loved ones at home. Just call Hospice of the Panhandle at 304-264-0406. Getting information about how we can help is free of charge and easy to do. Let us help you make your holidays memorable!

Hospice care is for individuals with serious illness whose doctor has said that their life expectancy is six months or less. Hospice cares for people in their own homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, hospitals and the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility.

For more information, call 304-264-0406 or go online to

Patient performs one final time in a wish come true


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

KEARNEYSVILLE — Buddy Trabert has sung at saloons, on a cruise ship, in churches and nursing homes. He even "almost” made it to "America’s Got Talent.”

"That was a long line I stood in,” he said with a smile.

On Friday, the 76-year-old’s final wish was to sing before an audience once more.

And he did so when Hospice of the Panhandle staff members gathered in the inpatient unit’s chapel to hear Trabert sing "10,000 Angels Cried” and "Go Rest High on That Mountain.”

"It was a little raspy, I apologize,” said Trabert, who suffers from chronic heart failure. "But maybe it was OK.”

For staff, it was more than OK. Many marveled not only at his musical talent ("I never could read music,” he said) but also for his tenacity in accomplishing his final goal.

"He is such a sweet man, and we wanted to make this happen for him, and with him,” said Hospice social worker Julie Sayre.

Trabert was admitted to the inpatient unit on Thursday and made his wishes known to staff shortly after admission. A quick announcement Friday morning guaranteed that he had a standing-room only audience.

Trabert, a Navy veteran and a retired retail salesman, was born in Pittsburgh, but moved throughout the country. A resident of Martinsburg for many years, Trabert most recently has been singing gospel tunes. And his audiences have included church groups, nursing home residents, patients at the VA Center, as well as attendees at private parties.

"He’s always loved entertaining and loves telling stories,” said Trabert’s girlfriend, Micki Funkhouser. "His favorite times have always been when he’s been in front of a crowd.”

Trabert said he spent years entertaining residents at Elmcroft, where his late wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, had lived at the end of her life. His wife, who died in 2013, was also a patient of Hospice of the Panhandle.

"He loves people, and has a God-given talent,” she said. "That’s why this (performing Friday) was so important to him. "

Trabert, who called himself "Martinsburg’s Wayne Newton,” has always enjoyed singing Elvis Presley hits as well. As he was warming up for the Friday performance, he belted out a few notes of "Blue Christmas.”

"Not bad, don’t you think?” he asked a visitor.

Trabert said he switched from "saloon singing” to gospel following his retirement from the U.S. Navy in 1977.

"I got down on my knees, and thanked God,” he said.

While he has many songs that he’s performed over the years, his all-time favorite is a well-known hymn – "How Great Thou Art.”

"This life…I am very grateful for all of it,” he said.

Gov. Tomblin makes National Hospice Month proclamation


MARTINSBURG — November marks National Hospice Month and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office created a proclamation for the occasion.

On Monday morning local officials, along with Hospice of the Panhandle’s staff, gathered together at the hospice facility in Kearneysville to celebrate National Hospice Month.

Joy Lewis, a local representative in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, presented the proclamation to Margaret Cogswell, CEO of Hospice of the Panhandle.

"The proclamation of National Hospice Month gives us another opportunity to remind people there is an organization in our community that can help them when they are facing this most difficult times in their lives,”Cogswell said."A lot of people are scared because they think it means the very end, but we have people in our program for months that we care for and they are doing the things they love to do because of the help we can give them.”

Cogswell said hospice’s main focus is to give their clients a peace of mind.

"In hospice care we work with people who have very serious illnesses, as well as their families, to make them very comfortable and to give the ability to live their life to the fullest,”Cogswell said."Sometimes that means taking care of physical problems so that they can do the things they really want to do, like enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with their family. That becomes the priority, not their illness. They are not defined by their illness, they are defined by who they are and the love they have for their families and their friends.”

Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182, or at on Twitter @kmarshallJN.

Patient named honorary Hospice Board member


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

KEARNEYSVILLE – Hospice of the Panhandle patient Walt Pellish visited the Hospice Board on Nov. 16 to express gratitude for the services he’s received, but told members he had one regret: that he had never served on the Hospice Board of Directors.

   Board members fixed that. At the end of the session, they voted unanimously to give Pellish, who currently serves as a Jefferson County commissioner, the status of "honorary Board member.”

   "We hope he will be able to join us in December,” said Board chair GT Schramm. "His story is absolutely amazing. We’re so grateful that he took the time to share it with us.”

   Pellish has been a hospice patient since late July. He was originally diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September 2013, and despite a poor prognosis, tolerated chemotherapy treatment reasonably well. This past spring, his oncologist told him that the cancer was progressing. He was told he had "one-four months” to live.

   "And here I am,” Pellish told the Board. Pellish said that each time he sees his oncologist, the physician "shakes his head, and tells me he doesn’t understand (how I’m still here).”

   In July, Pellish attended an Eastern Panhandle Business Association meeting, which meets regularly at Hospice’s Kearneysville campus, and decided to find out more about hospice services.

   "I talked to Margaret (Cogswell, the CEO), then made an appointment with the nurse,” he said. "We just moved from there.”

   Pellish, an avid golfer, continues his active lifestyle as much as he is able. He admits that some neuropathy has "raised hell with my golf game.” He did, however, participate in a local golf scrabble two weeks ago, where he played 18 holes. He continues to attend Thursday weekly county commission meetings, and attends other meetings as part of his appointments to related boards and commissions. He sits on West Virginia University Healthcare’s Foundation Board, as well as the Jefferson County Development Authority.

   "My assignment hasn’t been finished,” he said with a smile.

    Pellish retired a number of years ago as the human relations director at U.S. Silica in Berkeley Springs. It was a job he enjoyed, mainly because of those he worked with, and those he got to interview for jobs at the plant.

   "I used to always ask them to tell me about themselves,” he said. "And I can tell you (that I’ve learned since July) that your team (at hospice) is outstanding. Everyone has the attitude…They care, they want to serve, and they are committed and dedicated. And I am no different than anyone else. Everyone is treated this way. What a blessing!”

   Pellish described a trip late this summer when he went to a Paul McCartney concert in Washington, D.C. When he got there, his hospice team had made sure he had a wheelchair for transport.

   "All my needs are anticipated,” he said.

   Pellish’s typical day begins a "little more slowly than in the past.” He takes care of his pets, a 3-year-old dachshund named Max, and his two cats, Abigail and Skitch, first, and then "gets moving.”

   "I do as much as I am able, but do get tired,” he said.

   Pellish’s advice to those facing a critical illness?

   "Call them (hospice),” he said. "They are here to help you.”

West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind students give back to Hospice


By Maria Lorensen

Caption for photo:  From left, are Liad Kuhl; Jason Holliday (Liad's "intervener"); Kailian Bowers-Haney, Jean Ryan, West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind teacher; Jordan Stanley; and Kierstan Walters.

ROMNEY — On any given sunny day, you might see Jason Holliday gingerly pushing the wheelchair of Liad Kuhl the several blocks from the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to Hospice of the Panhandle’s office on High Street. Holliday, who is Kuhl’s "intervener,” accompanies the student nearly everywhere throughout his days at the school. But when the school’s Community Service Club finishes a batch of homemade cards for hospice patients, you’ll see Holliday and Kuhl making the short trek to the hospice office to hand out the cards.

"Our patients enjoy them so much,” said Hospice team leader Johnna Shreve. "They look forward to the next season so they can see what the students will make for them.”

The cards are simply crafted, with a stenciled snowflake, Easter egg, spring flower or fall pumpkin on the front. And inside, there’s a short message like "Happy Spring” or "Snowflakes sparkle in the new year” as well as each of the students’ signatures.

One of those students, Kierstan Walters, has been making the cards for the past four years. She proudly points out her signature to a visitor, and when she learns she’s getting her picture taken and might become "famous,” she smiles widely.

"Thank you,” Walters said.

Ten-year teacher and club moderator Jean Ryan has been working with the students for all four years that the club has been making the cards. She teaches six math and life skills courses daily.

"Everyone has something to offer,” Ryan said. "I don’t know that my kids … always get a lot of credit. And they have the ability to give back.”

Familiar with hospice’s role in the community, Ryan said the project "touches her heart.”

"It’s a way that, in the words of my father-in-law, we can see beyond ourselves,” she said.

Principal Michael Coleman, who taught for 23 years at the school before returning as principal, loves the idea of the Community Service Club as much as Ryan.

"Our kids are no different than any other kids,” he said. "We’ve always promoted service as an aspect of their learning.”

Coleman, who spent some time working in the county’s special education program, believes he’s back where he is meant to be.

"I know what a valuable asset the school is to the community,” Coleman said.

Shreve, who enjoys the almost monthly visits from Kuhl and Holliday, couldn’t agree more.

For more information about hospice care, contact Hospice of the Panhandle at 304-264-0406.

A long road: Navigating long-term care options


By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

It was New Year’s Eve when my mom decided that her father needed more care than we could provide at home. His dementia was worsening, and he was getting increasingly agitated, especially at night. While we had paid caregivers who were with him during the daytime, it was mostly my mom’s responsibility in the evenings and on weekends to care for him–which is challenging on its own and much more so when you work full time. Family helped where they could, but she was exhausted. It was time to start looking at other options.

I remember that it was unseasonably warm that morning when my mom and I hopped in her truck to begin our grand tour of assisted living and nursing facilities. Even though we both work in healthcare, we weren’t quite sure where my grandfather fit when it came to long-term care.

Navigating healthcare options for long-term care can be challenging. October is National Long-Term Care Planning Month. Take time this month to sit down and think about what you and your loved ones want should you no longer be able to care for yourselves.

What follows is a mini-guide to some of the services available to those who need care in our area. It is by no means an exhaustive guide but it’s a stepping stone in deciding what might be right for you.

In-home caregivers

In-home caregivers perform a variety of tasks from personal care assistance to light housekeeping. You can schedule a caregiver to arrive when you need them and stay as long needed, whether that’s a few hours to help with personal care or all day while you’re at work.

In-home caregivers may be hired individually, through an in-home care agency or from a senior services organization. Whichever you choose, be sure to get references and check that the caregiver has the necessary bonding and insurance. Caregivers may have varying degrees of training from having personal experience caring for a loved one to being a Certified Nursing Assistant. You will also need to establish who is responsible for paying taxes on the salary that the caregiver is receiving.

One of the benefits of working through an agency or senior services organization is that this often gives you access to support services such as Registered Nurses, social workers and case management.

In-home care may or may not be covered by your insurance depending on the person or agency you work with and your insurance plan.

Home health agencies

Home health support is an option for those who have a skilled nursing need (for example, wound care, IV antibiotics or physical therapy). With a doctor’s order, a home health agency can provide a nurse who will come to your home to assist with care along with home health aides, social workers, therapists and dieticians.

Home health agencies can also provide education on how to care for your loved one at home.

Home health staff do not provide 24-hour care. A caregiver will need to be in the home for those who cannot live safely on their own.

This care is often covered by insurance though the amount of coverage may vary depending on your insurance plan.

Assisted living facilities

Assisted living facilities are communities for those who need support to live independently but do not require constant care. Often each resident has his own room but will share common areas such as activity spaces and a dining room.

These communities have nursing staff and resident assistantswho help residents with personal care, administering medications, and traveling to and from meals and activities.

In West Virginia, assisted living facilities are usually paid for out of pocket or with long-term care insurance.

Skilled nursing facilities

People go to a skilled nursing facilities (popularly known as a nursing home) for a short or long time when they need round-the-clock care by medical professionals. This might be because they are recovering from an injury or serious illness or because they need more care than can be feasibly given at home or in an assisted living facility.

Nursing facilities require a doctor’s order prior to admission. Generally there is a skilled nursing need (for example, tube feeding, complex medication management or physical therapy). Most long-term residents are dependent on others to perform most of their personal care and daily activities.

A stay at a skilled nursing facility may or may not be covered by insurance depending on the necessity and length of the stay and the terms of individual insurance plans.

Hospice care

Hospice care is for anyone experiencing life-limiting illness who has decided to forego aggressive treatments. A physician ordering hospice believes his or her patient life expectancy is six months or less. Hospice care can be provided in the home, in an assisted living facility, skilled nursing facility or at the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility.

Hospice patients receive intermittent care from nurses, social workers, home health aides, chaplains, grief counselors and volunteers based on the needs of the patients.

With few exceptions, hospice care is covered by Medicare, West Virginia Medicaid and most private insurance plans.

Finding the right kind of care for your loved one can be challenging when there are so many choices. The first step to getting the care you need is by reaching out and asking questions.

My mom and I learned that New Year’s Eve that the best place for my grandfather was an assisted living facility. Later he transitioned to the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility when he had a stroke and needed hospice care.

Ashley Horst is the fundraising and marketing coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406 or

Bless you, I could never do what you do


By Renee Bledsoe, Crisis Care Nurse

So, if I had a dollar (I used to say a dime when I was a kid) for every time I have heard someone say these"bless you”words to me since I became a Hospice nurse, I’m guessing I could have retired by now! But, as it were, and should be, we don’t take tips, so I will just have to keep up the 401K.

I hear these words a few times a week: From the families of our patients, from friends, from my own family and from people who just see my name tag when I stop for coffee. But, most surprisingly, I hear this from fellow nurses! My answer, however, is always the same: Sure, you could do this work. And, the rewards are exponential.

I remember a nursing class some years back where we had to create our personal nursing"paradigm.”After we all sat quietly pretending to know what that word meant, thankfully, the instructor provided the definition. There are several definitions, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but these two nail it: 1. A theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or thought about. 2. A philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.

So we all wrote several words describing how we saw ourselves in our newly chosen careers and most of us used similar adjectives: kind, caring, competent, trustworthy, compassionate. These are just some attributes of what one expects in a good nurse! Most of us had areas of health care in which we had an interest and we all wanted to"make a difference.”

Some nurses find their calling right away, but most of us search for a while until we find the place where we are best suited. Hospice nurses are no exception. We come from varied backgrounds, bringing our experience with us: From the intensive care unit, emergency room, long-term care, oncology, pediatrics, labor and delivery, corrections, medical/surgical. But all nurses have something in common. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our patients eventually exhaust the ability of what medical care is capable of healing.

Haven’t we all wondered at times what we could have done to make someone’s last hours, days, weeks, or even months more comfortable and meaningful? Or, thought to ourselves, if we"had only known”we could have (and should have) approached it differently. As a Hospice nurse, I may not have the opportunity to change the outcome, but I help those who want to choose their own course, and assist them in selecting their own terms. I empower family members with the knowledge and skills they need to care for their loved ones. I get to work with amazing people who all share a"paradigm”where the practice of compassionate and patient-focused care is the expectation and not the exception. I have had the opportunity to grow professionally, educationally, and personally and I continue to learn new skills.

How could I not love what I do?

So, even if I had all those dollars for every time I am asked"How do you do that every day?”and could retire, I would absolutely sign on as a volunteer!It’s not an easy job, but who goes into nursing with that illusion? So, if you are a nurse with high standards, good assessment and critical thinking skills, strive to maintain excellence, believe in the holistic approach to patient care and love your fellow humans, you can do this and I encourage you to try it. It is simply love, paired with the skills we are blessed to possess and the desire to really make a difference that is required to make a good Hospice nurse. I see families provide this amazing care every day for their loved ones and what I have learned from them has made me both a better nurse and a better human being. I will remain forever grateful to patients and their families for teaching me what true love and compassion really looks like. And, I daily receive heartfelt appreciation from patients, families and colleagues. (Hey, sometimes we all need a little external validation.)

Renee Bledsoe has been a crisis care nurse for Hospice of the Panhandle, Inc., for more than seven years. She is a Licensed Practical Nurse and Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse. If you are interested in working in Hospice and Palliative care, check the Hospice of the Panhandle website or Facebook page for opportunities.

Why lifelong learning is so important


By Dr. Sarah Phillips

Throughout medical school, I heard one concept emphasized again and again - physicians are life-long learners. Medicine is always changing and as healthcare providers, we need to grow and learn and keep growing and learning throughout our professional careers. I couldn't agree more, as I've spent almost the last four years taking care of patients who are on their final journey on this earth. It has been an amazing time.

Medical students learn about the human body, disease processes, medications, taking patients' medical histories, physical exams, diagnostic studies, epidemiology, and professionalism. While in medical school, I took countless tests to evaluate my knowledge over the course of four years. Next came residency, an additional three-plus years of training in my specific field of interest. Throughout residency, I took more exams and finally, sat for board certification in my area of expertise.

However, learning does not stop there. I take a board exam every few years to maintain certification. In order to maintain my medical license, I accumulate a required number of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits every two years.

It sounds like a lot because it is. But the continued emphasis on learning, on keeping up to date with current trends and practices, ensures that medical professionals everywhere continue to provide excellent care to our patients. This continued education also gives us the ability to guide and advise students and new physicians throughout their training.

Many physicians, at one point or other during their careers, pursue administration. In 2013 early on in my medical career - I had the opportunity to become medical director of Hospice of the Panhandle. I accepted this role with excitement and trepidation. Being part of the administrative team meant many things managing budget items, being part of a QAPI (Quality Assurance Performance Improvement) committee, developing programs, contributing to strategic planning initiatives, reviewing and revising policy and procedure, networking within the medical community, working with the marketing team, following regulation changes, implementing changes to ensure compliance. These tasks are very different than caring for our patients and families. And certainly, none of them are part of the curriculum offered in medical school!

Taking on these administrative tasks reminds me again daily, in fact - that we are life-long learners. While some learning comes from books and classroom experiences, some simply comes from on-the-job training. I am very fortunate to have an extremely supportive and helpful team of colleagues who have helped guide and teach me as I have grown in my role in taking care of patients and families, and being part of the management team. It is truly a rewarding feeling knowing that you are an influential and integral part of a team and organization that provides an invaluable service to the community.

This year, I sat for the Hospice Medical Director Certification exam and am proud to say that I am now a Certified Hospice Medical Director. I am very grateful to my Hospice of the Panhandle colleagues our incredibly caring staff, my fellow managers, a supportive Board of Directors - for guiding me, encouraging me, and believing in me. My 3 1/2 years at Hospice has allowed me to grow as a person, a professional, a physician, and a life-long learner.

Sarah Phillips is the medical director for Hospice of the Panhandle. For more information about hospice service, call 304-264-0406 or visit the website at http//

Hospice nurse joins advocacy initiative


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

Caption for photo:  Donna Washington, right, a licensed practical nurse with Hospice of the Panhandle, meets with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito aide Dana Richter to discuss hospice and end-of-life issues at a two-day hospice advocacy event on Capitol Hill held in July.

Donna Washington met more than 200 hospice advocates in Washington last month.

They were nurses, nursing assistants, chaplains and social workers who comprised what she called "the largest interdisciplinary team in the world."

Washington, a licensed practical nurse for Hospice of the Panhandle, was the only hospice representative from West Virginia who traveled to D.C. in late July as a part of the two-day Hospice Action Network's Advocacy Initiative. The event, sponsored by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization annually, is designed to bring "foot soldiers" - those who do the hands-on work of hospice - to meet with U.S. Senators and House members and key members of their staff.

"It was just an amazing experience," said Washington, who has worked for Hospice of the Panhandle for eight years. "It was just so exciting to see all these people who were committed toward working on the same thing - providing excellent end-of-life care for patients and families."

Washington spent the first day sitting side-by-side with her colleagues, watching instructional videos, listening to others talk about their experiences working with hospice care. Some states, like New York, had 18 hospice advocates attend.

"We all had a common story; we were all singing the same song," she said. "That's really neat to know there's such a big network of people out there who are all interested in doing the same thing."

Washington called the initiative the "Olympics" of hospice care.

"It was such a big arena," she said. "At first, I was very nervous, but once I recognized that we all had a common purpose, and that we would be well prepared, I became driven."

On the second day, Washington traveled to each of West Virginia's two Senate officers - Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, as well as the three congressional offices - U.S. Reps. Alex Mooney, David McKinley and Evan Jenkins. The focus for all the nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains was to tell their stories - about patients and families who made a lasting impact on the way they practice.

Washington said one story that she shared was about a young Marine who she took care of several years ago. In his 30s, he had advanced cancer. The father of two told his young wife how sorry he was to let her down - he had been strong and served his country, yet he wasn't able to be strong any longer. Washington said she heard the woman say to her husband, "You've never given up. Even if I knew this was what would happen to us, I would be at the altar with you again."

"It's what we get to experience in hospice care a lot - we are privileged to witness the goodbyes," she said. "It's so touching."

Though she didn't get to meet with the representatives or senators individually, she met with staff members at each office. She was struck by the fact that all of them had had individual hospice experiences.

"One staffer actually became tearful when she talked about her (grandmother's) care," Washington said.

She received a welcome reception in each office, and feels pleased that West Virginia's congressional delegation is so supportive of hospice care. Both Sen. Capito and Sen. Manchin have recorded public service television and radio announcements that have aired throughout West Virginia talking about their personal experiences with hospice care for their parents. In April, Capito introduced the Rural Access to Hospice bill in the Senate.

Hospice of the Panhandle has participated in the HAN initiative for the past four years, sending three other nurses and an aide to visit Congress as part of the nationwide advocacy team.

"We believe that sharing our story is so vitally important," said Hospice of the Panhandle CEO Margaret Cogswell. "We knew that Donna would do a beautiful job and we're so pleased that she was able to have the experience."

For Washington, she calls her two days on Capitol Hill, "life-changing."

"You know, I'm just so fired up (about the work that I do)," Washington said. "This work is what I was meant to doit's not just a job, but a mission. I heard that and witnessed that again and again in Washington."

To learn more about Hospice of the Panhandle, visit the website at call 304-264-0406.

General comes home for his final days


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

Photo:  General Speedy Lloyd in front of a U.S. Air Force C-130.  Photo courtesy of the Jefferson County Museum, Charles Town, W. Va.

Brigadier General Virgil "Speedy" Lloyd was a man who embraced life. During his long career at the Air National Guard, and as a pilot in the Air Force, he flew on missions that took him all over the world to Iraq, to the South Pole and lots of places in between.

And when he wasn't flying, he was sailing. Or cooking. Or hosting a party. Or traveling to Rome or Key West or floating along the Amazon River.

Lloyd, nicknamed "Speedy" at a young age because of his track and field prowess and his expert pole-vaulting ability (he held the record at Charles Town High School) - loved to entertain, tell stories of his adventures. He also enjoyed traveling with his late wife of 30 years, Nancy, who died four years ago of cancer. A skilled pilot and sailor, Lloyd became interested in flying at an early age because of an uncle who was an aviator. Lloyd loved his time in the Air Force, and at the Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing especially the 10-plus years he spent as the wing commander. After retiring from the Guard in 1999, he returned to civilian duty, and was actually a pilot for United Airlines on 9/11. After that fateful day, he returned to military duty and spent time in the Middle East. He retired at age 60, in April 2004, as a brigadier general.

"He was such a humble man. He never bragged on himself," said Lloyd's younger sister, Dottie Lorenz. "At his retirement party, he sat with cleaning people and not generals."

Lloyd was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor that was particularly fast-growing. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but up until about a month before being admitted to Hospice of the Panhandle's inpatient facility, he was planning trips. Shortly after his diagnosis, he took a three-week trip to Rome. Upon his return, he went to live with a friend in Richmond, Virginia. But he knew he wanted to spend his final days in the place where he grew up where his beloved younger sister, Dottie, lived.

"I started my life here and I want to end it here," Gen. Lloyd told Lorenz.

When Lloyd returned to Charles Town, Lorenz quickly realized that his needs were greater than she could handle on her own. Although Lloyd wanted to stay at Lorenz' home and she wanted to care for him there she was nervous about him navigating stairs, and moving about her house safely.

"I was just so pleased when I heard about this place (the inpatient facility)," Lorenz said. "What we were able to do was have people visit (Lloyd in his final days). It's been amazing."

And more than 100 of them did visit him at Hospice's Kearneysville campus. Many of his old friends, family members, many officers whom he mentored, even the country's first female navigator came to call on the general. They sat at Lloyd's bedside while he peered out the window of his room. Outside that window, far up in the sky, Lloyd was able catch a glimpse of the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft that often passed by overhead.

One of the things Lorenz did was ask Lloyd's visitors to sign in, as well as share their stories with the brigadier general and other visitors. She attempted to capture some of those as friends were visiting.

"He loved butterflies, and fried chicken and steak and telling about his adventures," she said. "There was always a party when Speedy was around."

Lloyd is said to have shaped a whole generation of airmen. In his final days, many spoke of their appreciation for the man who influenced their lives so dramatically.

On June 9, Lloyd died at Hospice's inpatient unit, surrounded by his family.

"We couldn't have asked for more here," Lorenz said. "The staff is incredible more than anything. It was so fitting (for him) to spend his final days here."

Close to 500 patients and their families - from Berkeley, Morgan, Jefferson and Hampshire counties have been served at the inpatient facility since it opened in March 2014. For more information about Hospice of the Panhandle's inpatient facility or for a tour, contact Maria Lorensen at 304-264-0406, ext. 1225, or

Two years and counting at Hospice Inpatient Facility


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

I often joke with people that I probably have offered 500 tours of Hospice of the Panhandle's inpatient unit since we've been open over the past two years and four months. OK, so maybe not 500, but it feels fairly close to that! There have been community groups and organizations, family members and friends of patients, supporters who have made donations all of whom walked with me through the halls, admired the hand-quilted bed runners on each patient bed, viewed the three-panel stained glass in the chapel, felt the gentle summer breeze from the overhead ceiling fan on one the porches. And still, we hear comments like, "I had no idea you were out here!" or "Have you told folks about this place?"

The short answer is yes, we've certainly told folks, but still, not everyone in the community is aware that Hospice does offer inpatient, residential and respite care for hospice patients in this 14-bed facility located in Kearneysville right of old W.Va. 9. And in the more than two years that we've been open, we've cared for more than 500 patients and families!

So our mission of educating the public about what we do, what is here, continues and probably will continue for a very long time.

I often think back about the days before the unit was built. Many residents in the four communities where Hospice offers service asked if the inpatient unit was needed. I think the staff, Board and families of those 500 patients who have experienced the care would now answer resoundingly, "Yes!"

Hospice's inpatient unit, from opening to today, has changed and grown. When we opened in March 2014, CEO Margaret Cogswell said, "What we're doing today won't be what we're doing in two months or two years." As an organization, Hospice of the Panhandle has learned so much about operating a 24-7 facility, about the type of care that is offered, about safety issues, about a million different things.

I think what has struck me most and what I've told most of the people who have been on those 500 tours is the level of compassionate care that our patients have received. The 27,000-square-foot facility is beautiful, for sure. Complete with spacious single bedrooms with private baths, a spa room with a Jacuzzi tub, a family kitchen and sitting areas, the facility feels much like a home (or like some families have told us, a five-star hotel).

But what most of the family members talk about is the care that their loved ones have received. They appreciate that grandpa, who hasn't been able to take a bath for years, soaked in the Jacuzzi under the watchful eye of a certified nursing assistant. They marvel that Aunt Louise was able to have her hair washed, blown dry and curled, again with an aide's assistance. They marvel that Uncle Joe simply mentioned that he loved fried oysters and the following night, the chef prepared them for him. And of course, when grandma began to get uncomfortable, all she had to do was ring the call bell, and a nurse attended to her needs quickly.

In those two-plus years, we've witnessed more than 100 friends say goodbye to their former guard commander, a simple but beautiful wedding where a mother saw her daughter recite her vows, a gentleman say his final goodbyes to his faithful dog. We've watched sons and daughters embrace, we've offered solace to a wife who lost her husband of almost 70 years.

There are so many amazing stories that we've witnessed over these past two years. What a privilege that's been! The future only holds more.

Maria Lorensen is the development director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1225, or Call or e-mail her if you would like a tour of the Hospice Inpatient Facility.

Hospice inpatient facility offers relief


By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

Despite the fact that Hospice of the Panhandle's inpatient unit has been operating for more than two years, we still encounter many folks - in our own communities - who don't know it exists. And even if folks know it exists, it bears explaining about who is eligible to go there and what type of care they can receive.

First, only hospice patients are eligible for care at the unit. This means that a medical doctor has said that if a patient's disease runs its normal course, then that patient's life expectancy would be less than six months.

At this time, Medicare also requires that patients aren't getting treatments to cure the disease. There is a trial program going on in the country right now to change this requirement. If it goes well, patients could be permitted to have treatment to cure their illness and hospice care at the same time. Unfortunately, we won't know the results of the trial program until at least 2020, so for now, the rule is that patients can't be getting curative treatments.

The exception to this rule is for children who use Medicaid as their insurance. They may receive both treatments for their disease and hospice care.

Next, families need to look at why their loved ones need care at the inpatient facility. This helps explain whether insurance will pay for the stay.

If a hospice patient has symptoms like pain or shortness of breath that cannot be fixed at home, then Medicare will pay for that hospice patient to go to the inpatient facility. This is called inpatient care - similar care to what is offered at hospitals.

However, Medicare will not pay for inpatient care if the patient's symptom can be fixed at home.

For example, many times families will request hospice care for their loved ones while the loved one is in the hospital. Perhaps they've been fighting the disease for a long time, they had pain from their disease and needed help getting it under control. After a day or so in the hospital, their symptoms are controlled well enough that hospice staff can work with them at home to continue to ease their symptoms.

Medicare will not pay for these patients to have "inpatient" care at the inpatient facility because they can reasonably receive care at home that meets their needs for pain and symptom control.

Hospice patients may also come to the inpatient facility for respite care when their caregiver needs a break. The caregiver may be exhausted from the demands of caring for their loved one or need a break to go out of town to a wedding, graduation, vacation or other event. Most often respite care is scheduled in advance.

Occasionally a hospice patient will go to the inpatient facility for respite care suddenly because their caregiver has an emergency, and there isn't someone else immediately available to stay with the patient.

Medicare and most private insurance companies will pay for up to five consecutive days of respite care.

The third reason that a hospice patient may go to the inpatient facility is to live full-time as a resident.

Hospice patients have become residents of the inpatient facility for a variety of reasons. Some patients don't have anyone to care for them so they choose to come to the inpatient facility to live out their days.

Several months ago a gentleman drove up to our office building and informed us that his doctor had diagnosed him with cancer and told him that he didn't have very long left to live. He didn't have family in the area to care for him so he wanted to look at our inpatient facility. After touring the facility he decided that when he could no longer live at home, he would come there. That is what the man did.

Some people come to the inpatient facility for residential care because their families cannot care for them at home. Often family members work full time and cannot be present with their loved one who needs 24-hour care. Care giving is a tough full-time job itself.

Nan Johnson, whose father passed away at the inpatient facility recently commented during a radio interview that, "At home I was the cranky caregiver, but in the inpatient facility I could be the delightful daughter."

The majority of hospice patients at the inpatient facility are there for residential care. Medicare does not pay for this type of care. Residential care must be paid for by the patient or their family.

Hopefully, this clears up some of the questions about the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility and the care that is provided there.

If you should have any additional questions about hospice care at home or at the inpatient facility, call 304-264-0406 or go

Hospice of the Panhandle provides professional medical care and volunteer support to people in the Eastern Panhandle who are living in the last stages of a serious illness.

A story much bigger than one of us


By Larry Crawley-Woods

On the occasion of having fulfilled my years of employment with Hospice of the Panhandle, and preparing to return to a former role as a volunteer, I was asked to reflect upon the experience of working in end-of-life care at Hospice. In doing so, the title of a book, "Profiles in Courage," written many years ago, came to mind.

This article will not be about me or even just specifically about Hospice. If I have learned anything over the years from people who are dying it is that the story here is much bigger than any one of us. And I'm not referring to only the afterlife. I have experienced enough in my own life, and have heard enough from others, whether I was working beside them or sitting at their bedside, to know for myself, without need of absolute proof that life continues after death, and that it is good.

But the future will take care of itself. The story is of the present. And in end-of- life care, whether it's taking place in a hospice, a home health care agency, a nursing home, a VA Center, or a family home, the story is about being present to one another.

G.K. Chesterton, the English writer, once said: "We are all survivors on a raft in a stormy sea; we owe each other a terrible loyalty." Life in this world is a mystery, followed by the mystery of death. It includes great joy and great suffering. It can be both beautiful and ugly. We can be filled with hope one day and overcome by fear the next. We revel in our commonality and we fret about our differences. This can be true throughout life and certainly at the end of life. Because of this it takes great courage to live. It takes courage to die. It takes courage to be with those who are dying. It takes courage to lose someone. And we are all in this together. In our humanness, courage sometimes comes with a firm resolve and determined expression on the face. It can also come with weak knees and a fluttering stomach.

Think about it. We live. We say goodbye to those we love who are dying. Then we die, saying goodbye to others we love. It is often an incomprehensible existence. How extraordinary, how valiant we all are that we are willing to do this, or accept having to do it.

And what Hospice of the Panhandle patients and my colleagues have taught me over the years, and what I will now take with me in to the future, is that it's all worth it.especially when we share it together.

And in the end, all will be well.

Larry Crawley-Woods is a bereavement counselor for Hospice of the Panhandle. He has worked for the agency since July 5, 1995. He will retire on June 30.

Helping Hearts helps Martinsburg man live more


By Ashley Horst, Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator

Four to 24 hours is how long Fred Skaggs had left to live. At least that's what the nurses in the emergency room told his wife Walleah. A nurse herself, Walleah really believed that it would be closer to four.

He had gained 50 pounds of fluid in just 10 days and his body was shutting down. The heart disease that he had been fighting was catching up to him.

When Fred made it through the night, Dr. Cathy Funk recommended that he go home with hospice.

Two days later, Fred was home under the care of hospice. He was bedbound and Carina, his hospice nurse, told Walleah that she expected that her husband would be with her for about another two weeks.

That was at the end of December.

In April, Fred was showing off the derby cars that he's made in the past for the Boy Scouts. He even has one that looks like Mater from the Disney movie "Cars." It's become the mascot of the local Boy Scout Pinewood Derby.

And since Hospice's physical therapist declared him steady enough to start woodworking again, he's looking forward to getting back out in his woodshop to finish the many birdhouses he'd started.

When asked about his projects, Fred replies, "Oh yeah, I've got probably two dozen things started and I'd like to finish them. It's a lot of activity but you can't call it work if you enjoy what you're doing."

How did Fred go from four hours to more than four months?

The Skaggs found that hospice care was much different than they had heard. Rather than worsening over time and then passing away, Fred began to improve!

Fred became one of the first patients of the new Helping Hearts program, a program of care specially designed for people in the last stages of heart disease.

His care team worked with Dr. Funk to reduce the fluid that was building up in his body. As the fluid lessened, he began working with physical therapist Shaun.

The couple completed sections of the Helping Hearts workbook, one of which helped them develop an emergency plan to control Fred's symptoms if he were to need it. They've also worked with Vicky, his hospice social worker, to identify their hopes and goals for the future.

Before long, Fred and Walleah were back in church and going out to eat.

Fred tells this story about being back in church:

"When I was back in church for the first time, our pastor remarked about how I almost died. I replied that I didn't get the memo," Fred pauses to chuckle. "Our pastor countered that I may not have gotten the memo, but I almost got the certificate!"

For Fred and Walleah, Helping Hearts has helped them do the things that they enjoy together.

"Hey, I've got him back," Walleah says as she looks at her husband with whom she renewed her wedding vows on April 10 after more than 30 years together.

As a former science teacher from Kanawha County, Fred puts his knowledge to use helping the Boy Scouts with the pinewood derby and teaching them about subjects such as geology and weather.

While they don't have children of their own, the Skaggs have friends who are close enough to call their kids or grandkids. Every day they receive multiple phone calls just checking in on them. The couple clearly shares a life of love and friendship with many around them.

Fred and Walleah credit Hospice and the Helping Hearts program with giving them more time to enjoy this life they're living together.

Ashley Horst is the fundraising and marketing coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1223, or

Hospice volunteers donate 12,000 hours in 2015


By Tricia Lawrence, Volunteer Coordinator

Hospice volunteers are the heart and soul of Hospice, and on April 7, Hospice of the Panhandle celebrated volunteers at the annual volunteer recognition dinner.

One night is not nearly enough to express the gratitude we have for our more than 200 volunteers. The role that each of them plays is vital to patients' comfort and quality of life. Whether it is sitting with patients for friendly visits or respite visit

s, 11th hour volunteering, pet therapy, providing transportation, giving haircuts, sitting at the front desk of our inpatient facility, helping in our main office, sitting on the Board of Directors or volunteering for fundraisers-plus so much more-each volunteer brings a unique set of skills to his or her job, and each task is equally important.

In 2015, volunteers completed more than 12,000 hours for our agency, which represents a cost savings of $284,000 for Hospice of the Panhandle. Those hours amount to 18 percent of the hours of care provided by our clinical staff to our patients. Medicare's Conditions of Participation require hospices to use volunteers to provide 5 percent of care each year.

According to the U.S Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average volunteer in the U.S. contributes about 52 hours per year to their volunteer work. Hospice of the Panhandle volunteers averaged more than 64 hours!

Part of Hospice's volunteer recognition is congratulating our volunteers for their years and total hours of service.

Thirty-seven vo

lunteers received recognition for completing more than 100 hours of service to our patients.

Forty-four percent of our volunteers have been volunteers for our organization for more than five years. Fourteen volunteers received their five years of service pins. Eight volunteers received 10 years of service pins. Two vo

lunteers received 15 years of service pins, and Theresa Goodman was recognized with a pin for 30 years of service.

The evening ended with the recognition of our volunteers of the year, Bob and Beverly Kinsey. Volunteering as a couple, Bob and Bev bring compassion and caring that touch our patients and their families' lives. They understand and align themselves with the hospice mission. They are involved in many ways including respite for family members, friendly visits with patients, transportation, preparing special food requests for patients, 11th hour volunteering, and those very last-minute requests, not to mention organizational and fundraising events. They are wonderful examples of the many ways in which people can volunteer at Hospice of the Panhandle.

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a Hospice of the Panhandle volunteer, contact Tricia Lawrence, volunteer coordinator at 304-264-0406, ext. 1224, tlawrence@hospiceotp.orgor visit

Workshop offers way to experience grief


The first photograph is one of a tiny orange stuffed bear, hand to its face, brushing away a tear.

The second is a mammoth group of rocks, piled one by one, on top of each other.

And the third is a silhouette of two hands, a man's and a woman's, reaching out to each other.

Each has an inscription beneath: "Lost and Alone, Rough Road Ahead;" "Crushing Weight, Jagged Emotions;" and "From the Shadows of Darkness, New Hope."

These three photographs mark Doug Craze's journey of grief and healing, through the loss of his beloved wife, Shirley, who died last summer. Craze participated in Hospice of the Panhandle's first-ever photography seminar, "Grief Through the Lens of Love" for individuals using the agency's grief support services. The seven-part workshop, based on a concept from a hospice grief counselor in Indiana, focused on using photography to explore and express grief.

The photos also represent a longer journey for Doug, who along with Shirley, began working as a Hospice volunteer in 2007. Although initially not intending to become a patient care volunteer, Doug became inextricably entwined with the organization after taking on the case of a 39-year-old Lou Gehrig's patient.

"My favorite assignment so far was one I had not long after we started volunteering," Doug recalled. "We had a patient, Miss Jessie, who wanted to ride through Jefferson County in a red convertible. The staff found a red convertible and took her on a tour. I followed them around taking pictures. I even followed them through the drive through at Dairy Queen because she wanted a chocolate milkshake!"

Shirley, meanwhile, began supporting families after a loved one had died by making stuffed bears out of patients' clothing. Using a patient's favorite shirt, she would stitch together a bear with black button eyes and a soft pom pom nose a tangible way for family members to remember their loved one.

Volunteer coordinator Tricia Lawrence quickly recognized Doug's gift for photography and frequently asked him to take pictures of special occasions for hospice patients and their families. Hospice staff also would often see him at special events like the ground-breaking for the inpatient facility and new main office, snapping away with his 35mm camera.

The Crazes' path with Hospice took another turn when Shirley, diagnosed with dementia at an early age, needed him, and they both stepped back from volunteering to focus on her care in 2009. Shirley fell on their 17th wedding anniversary and, and suffered serious injuries and head trauma. Her health declined rapidly and she became a hospice patient before passing away at home in August.

After Shirley's death, Doug found his way to the Center for Grief Support. He found healing through the photography workshop.

"Before I would hide my feelings and speak outwardly about my grief only in general terms," Doug said. "This self-expression allowed me to relive moments, re-examine and bear feelings related to Shirley's illness, injury and death which was healing."

Daniel Speis, hospice's coordinator of grief support and spiritual care services, experienced the impact of Brenda Kenyon's similar photography program described at a conference of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in October 2014.

With Kenyon's permission, Speis offered Hospice of the Panhandle's version of the workshop that culminated with a private gallery showing on April 19. In addition to Doug, eight other participants selected three of their photographs to display, each representing a different part of their grief-the early days, the most painful part and what gives them hope. They also had the option of including a title and description of their work.

On the evening of April 19, Doug arranged his three photographs on a wall of the education center at Hospice of the Panhandle.

The early days of his grief were characterized with one of Shirley's stuffed bears sitting on a path of rocks. The most painful part is represented his second photo a wall of jagged, stacked rocks on a wall in Harpers Ferry. The final photograph, which represents hope, shows the shadows of two hands reaching toward each other on a white brick wall. The hand on the left is Doug's and the hand on the right represents a new relationship.

Doug is again volunteering for Hospice, now with the "We Honor Veterans" program through which he recognizes fellow veterans (Doug is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force) and honors veterans who die at the inpatient unit.

Doug credits his nine years as a hospice volunteer with helping him through his journey.

"My time as a hospice volunteer helped me walk through the process with Shirley. Between volunteering and having cared for both of our mothers at home with hospice, I had a good idea of what to expect and that was comforting."

Ashley Horst is the fundraising and marketing coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1223, or

Being Mortal: an important community conversation


By Dr. Sarah Phillips, medical director

   Just more than a year ago, PBS aired a Frontline special titled "Being Mortal." This episode focused on the work of Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer who is confronting the issue of doctors' responsibility to have honest conversations with their patients about their mortality.

   In the episode, Gawande takes the viewer through the story of a young woman with lung cancer. She and her husband were expecting their first child when she was diagnosed. Gawande became her doctor when she was diagnosed with a second cancer. At this point, he struggles over the physical cost of surgery and treatment for this woman in comparison to the benefits that she might receive. He finds that he's really not equipped to have truthful conversations with her and her husband about the fact that she will probably only live a few more months.

   In a conversation with Gawande, her husband wonders what they lost by trying every possible therapy while his wife continued to get more ill. The treatments had left her so weak that she could no longer hold her newborn daughter. He wished that they had started focusing on quality of life sooner.

   After this case, Gawande begins studying why these conversations are so difficult for doctors to have with their patients. He finds that there are many reasons why doctors struggle to talk to patients candidly about their probable outcomes and also why these conversations often don't happen as frequently or as soon as they should.

   At the crux of the issue is that doctors, like their patients, are human. As a physician myself, I can tell you that it's heart-wrenching to have to tell a patient that there is no cure for their disease. The doctor, in that moment, shares in the pain that the patient and their loved ones are feeling.

   Bad news is hard to hear and as a result, there is temptation to avoid having difficult conversations that convey bad news. This is human nature but it is also a disservice to the patients we serve. The practice of medicine centers around autonomy. Autonomy is defined as "a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, uncoerced decision."

   How can our patients make informed decisions if they do not fully understand the status of their health? Physicians are called by the Hippocratic Oath to "apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism."

   We must push through our own discomforts and be upfront, honest, and realistic with those who turn to us for guidance.

   The physician may also feel like he failed the patient. We're trained to heal. When healing is no longer possible, we can feel like we let the patient down. As Gawande stated in the Frontline episode, physicians aren't given much training with "the two big unfixables-aging and dying."

   Many times this fear of not failing a patient can lead a doctor to pursue treatments that aren't truly going to benefit the patient. Quality of life suffers, but the doctor is afraid that his patient will feel like he's giving up on them if he doesn't continue to offer treatment.

   Patients can also be resistant to hearing bad news or may not clearly understand what the doctor is saying to them. This can make the physician's job challenging when trying to prepare someone to walk through the last stages of life.

   However, Gawande points out that it's important for physicians to recognize that people have priorities other than living longer. It's these priorities that should dictate the course of treatment and care.

   Sometimes the patient leads this conversation. You shouldn't be afraid to tell your doctor what your priorities, hopes and fears are. This can lift a heavy burden from your doctor when you signal that it's OK to have the tough conversations. It also lets the doctor know that you recognize that the physician is human and there are limits to what he or she can do.

   In my work with hospice, physicians have often expressed relief when a patient brings up hospice care. Sometimes the patient is just planning for a time down the road, maybe months or years from that day, when their chronic disease has moved into its last stages.

   Sometimes the patient is also recognizing that it's time to start planning for the end.

   It's a relief to a doctor to know exactly what the patient wants. It gives him a framework to help guide the patient to making the decisions that will help him or her accomplish what is most important.

   We're all mortal, and dying is part of living. It's important that we have honest conversations with each other and the people most involved with how we die-our families and our doctors. Be assured that your doctor doesn't want to have this conversation any more than you do, but he or she will thank you for bringing it up.

   I'd like to invite you to take the first step towards having this conversation by joining me tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. for a screening of the documentary, "Being Mortal," followed by a panel discussion about medicine and what matters at the end of life. This event, being held at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center Auditorium on the campus of Berkeley Medical Center, will help our community start the conversation about how we want to live at the end of our lives and the role we want our physicians to play in this journey.

   Other panelists for this discussion include Dr. Josh Dower of Stonerise Healthcare and Patty Davis, chairperson of the Mountains of Hope Cancer Coalition. The discussion will be moderated by Rob Hoxton of HFI Wealth Management.

   For more information about the "Being Mortal" screening and panel discussion, visit or call 304-264-0406.

   The program is brought to you by the WVU Health Sciences Center, WVU Medicine University Healthcare and Hospice of the Panhandle. It is part of the Being Mortal Project, a program of the Hospice Foundation of America and underwritten by the John and Wauna Harman Foundation.

   Dr. Sarah Phillips is medical director of Hospice of the Panhandle and specializes in geriatric and palliative medicine.

Volunteers are referred to as heart and soul of hospice


By Tricia Lawrence, volunteer coordinator

   Volunteers are often referred to as the heart and soul of hospice. Like staff, they are engaged in our mission to provide compassionate care to the terminally ill in our community.

   Managing volunteers is not a job to me; it is my passion. I love working every day with each and every one of them! Nothing blesses my heart more than to hear what an impact volunteers make in the lives of our patients and even the staff who work with them weekly or on special projects. They encourage me and make me want to be a better person.

   I recently had a unique opportunity with a volunteer.

   This volunteer had attended our training and was looking for an opportunity to give back. She had beaten cancer once in her life and had previously volunteered with a hospice in another state. Soon after training was completed, she stood in my office and said that her cancer had returned but she was going to fight it like she had before and would be back to volunteering in a few months. However, two weeks later she became our patient.

   This woman was determined. She knew exactly what she wanted and planned to spend her last days in our inpatient facility. As her disease progressed and she became weaker, she decided it was time to come to our facility. She declined quickly and within days was actively dying.

   One morning I went over to see her and she was unresponsive. I sat with her a while, holding her hand, stroking her hair and talking softly to her. When company arrived, I went back to my office and told the nurse to call if they left because I did not want her to die alone. No sooner did I sit down than the nurse called to tell me she was breathing her last, and if I wanted to see her one more time, I needed to hurry. I had the honor of sitting in the last moments of her life holding her hand as she slipped away in comfort and peace.

   Many of our volunteers do this in the role of the 11th hour volunteer. Most of the time, these very special volunteers sit with patients who do not have family or friends who live nearby. It can be at any time, day or night. We do not want our patients to die alone. No one should, which is why these volunteers play a vital role at the end of life. Supporting our patients through the end of their lives is what we do and walking alongside them is what our volunteers do.

   If you think you might be interested in helping our patients during this time in their lives, consider becoming a hospice volunteer.

   Hospice of the Panhandle has a volunteer training coming up on Fridays, April 22 and 29, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hospice of the Panhandle's main office located in Kearneysville. For individuals interested in being an 11th hour or patient care volunteer, attendance on both days is necessary. For those interested in helping with office work or fundraising, you need to attend just the training session on April 22. Pre-registration is required.

   More information about hospice volunteering can be found at or you can call Tricia Lawrence, volunteer coordinator at 304-264-0406, or email her at

Country ham dinners and making wishes come true


By Ashley Horst, Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator

Recently I overheard a conversation in which our volunteer coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle, Tricia Lawrence, was saying that one of our patients really wanted to eat a country ham dinner. Our chef at the inpatient facility, Jordon Thompson, had everything he needed to make this dinner except the country ham. Tricia was brainstorming about where we could get it.

Being the daughter of a 4-Her and FFA enthusiast who won national championships for showing pigs, I myself appreciate the salty flavor of country ham and happened to have some in my freezer.

A few days later two of our social workers stopped to tell me that they were on their way to deliver country ham, baked apples, black eyed peas and cornbread to our patient. They had just talked to his wife who told them that he was very excited for his country dinner.

Moments like these happen every day for hospice patients. We consider ourselves lucky to be a part of making wishes-both simple like a country ham dinner and big like meeting Stevie Nicks-come true for those who are checking off items on a bucket list. It's an important part of the care that we provide.

The challenge comes though when we're racing against the clock or time simply runs out. Then, that last chance to make wonderful memories is lost forever. This happens when a patient is referred to hospice care when they literally only have days or sometimes hours left to live.

This makes the staff at Hospice unhappy because we know that those patients are often missing out on opportunities to live richly during the last months of their lives. Many times we are meeting these patients in the hospital where they went because they could no longer tolerate the pain and symptoms associated with their disease. This may be their third or fourth trip to the hospital in just a few months. At that point, the most important desire that we are trying to fulfill is getting the person home to be with their family for those last precious days.

It doesn't have to be like this. With earlier intervention, hospice care can help people be comfortable at home and avoid trips to the hospital.

Family members often send thank you notes to our staff when we have cared for their loved one. One of the most repeated comments we read is that a family wishes that they had called hospice sooner. They didn't realize everything we could do for their loved one and for them.

They wish they had called sooner because it was a relief to have the home health aides providing personal care because a husband found it difficult to bathe his elderly wife.

They wish they had called sooner because they were able to call in the middle of the night when their dad couldn't breathe and they didn't know what to do. The nurse responded to the call, visited Dad at home and he avoided a trip to the hospital.

They wish they had called sooner because the volunteer who read their mom's favorite book to her could have been doing that for months instead of days.

Fear keeps people from calling. It is painful and scary to acknowledge that a life is coming to an end. Sometimes we think that if we don't talk about it that somehow it won't happen.

Unfortunately not acknowledging the truth can result in very real pain and distress for the person who is suffering the advanced stages of an illness. It can also result in missed opportunities.

There are two things that you can do to avoid missing these opportunities. First, if you or someone you know is in the last stages of an illness, call Hospice of the Panhandle. Let us help you continue living and see how we can help make your wishes come true.

Second, you can make your desires for end-of-life care known now, even if you are not suffering from an end-stage or chronic condition. Complete an advanced directive, which gives instructions on what kind of care you would want if you were to have an advanced illness and could not express your wishes. An advanced directive also designates who you would want to make medical decisions for you if you could not make them for yourself.

Once you've made these decisions, talk to your family and your doctor about them. It's a lot easier to have those conversations now.

For more information about hospice care or completing an advanced directive, go to or call 304-264-0406.

Ashley Horst is fundraising and marketing coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1223, or

Helping Hearts can make a difference


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

My first caregiver was my Aunt Rose. Before I went to kindergarten, but after the time my mom went back to work after maternity leave, Aunt Rose and I were constant companions. Actually, it was for years after that she was my babysitter during summers as well. She and Uncle Herman had a small house about a block and a half from ours. She had no children of her own, but she took care of me and many others. She was one busy woman!

From the time I got to her house in the morning until the time I left, she would be cooking meals, cleaning her already spotless house, checking on her parents, packing meals for homebound family members and friends, and strategizing on which ill relatives or church friends would benefit from a visit.

Once the food was packed and ready for distribution, we'd jump in her green Rambler, with me, right up front with her (no car seats back in those days), peering out the front window. We'd often make two or three stops during the usual lunchtime outing, which often took several hours because of the visits that went along with the food drop-offs.

And there were the days that we would visit the funeral home after all the lunches were distributed. When one of the shut-ins died, we would spend time paying our respects. No one seemed to think it was odd that a young child visited alongside Aunt Rose. And when I asked questions about the deceased, Aunt Rose would answer with clarity.

She was a wonderfully kind woman who showed me - by the way she lived her life - the meaning of compassion. I've told several people since coming to work at Hospice of the Panhandle seven years ago that she probably was my earliest influence on how to treat people at the end of life with dignity, kindness and compassion.

She was a good cook, preparing simple but nutritious meals for those she assisted. She also had a "candy cupboard" that always contained sweet treats for me, but were off limits to her. I found out, early on, that she, like her mother and brother (my father), had heart disease. Her heart issues were hereditary, but she managed them well. She watched her weight, was very conscious of what she ate, and except for one pony-sized bottle of Rolling Rock a week, didn't drink alcohol. Her other indulgence was Coke and she probably limited herself to one 8-ounce serving a week.

Despite taking wonderful care of others and herself, her symptoms worsened as she aged - especially in her late 70s. Frankly, she wasn't a complainer, and was a very private person, so it was really difficult to tell how ill she really was. Even when she wound up in the hospital, I often didn't know about it until she returned home. She didn't like those trips to the hospital.

Ultimately, Aunt Rose lived to the age of 90 (I think she was 90; she was such a private person that her age wasn't even on the funeral card!) She had a final heart attack, and died at home, where she wanted to be. Instead of calling 9-1-1 the last time, she called my father, who was with her when she died.

Though it's been years since Aunt Rose died, I've been thinking of her a lot since Hospice of the Panhandle launched its new cardiac program in February called "Helping Hearts of the Panhandle." While she passed away more than a decade ago, Aunt Rose's final months were filled with hospital visits, and many trips to the cardiologist. I also remember how tired she seemed (not that she complained).

Helping Hearts is designed to assist those who are in the end stages of cardiac disease. It's a program that was put into effect because we at Hospice recognize the prevalence of heart disease in West Virginia and in our four-county service area. And we want to help those cardiac patients live a full life. The program features visits from an occupational therapist, a dietitian, social workers and nurses and aides. Our team can teach patients relaxation techniques, energy conservation tips and how to avoid symptom flare-ups. They'll work with patients to set up emergency plans, and will offer 24-hour on-call assistance. We believe that patients enrolled in the program will make fewer trips to the Emergency Room.

Since the beginning of February, Helping Hearts has enrolled four new cardiac patients. We think those numbers will increase as more patients and families learn about the program, and how they can benefit from it.

If you are interested in learning more, call Helping Hearts at 304-264-0406 or visit and click on "Helping Hearts of the Panhandle" under the "Resources" tab.

Maria Lorensen is the development director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1225, or

Hospice annual cookie project is a labor of love


More than 25 years old, this annual event - featuring thousands of cookies, along with some brownies and even miniature muffins - is a labor of love because it brings so many people together around Valentine's Day, said volunteer coordinator Tricia Lawrence.

First, the bakers - including many local churches - provide the baked goods, and then volunteers were also responsible for folding the approximately 400 boxes that were packed with about four dozen cookies per package. Volunteers also helped deliver them in Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan and Hampshire counties, she said.

Lucky recipients include folks who've helped with the agency's mission, including doctors' offices, funeral homes, pharmacies and nursing homes.

"Here we've got about 1,200 dozen cookies - just here in this room right now. And I'm expecting to have at least 1,400 dozen between the other two counties," Lawrence said.

"It is just amazing, a true blessing to have so many community members who want to help with our mission," she said proudly as volunteers circled the tables and ever so carefully placed cookies in boxes.

A few feet away, Cheryl Gregory was already enjoying one of the perks to this job.

"It's the first thing we learn - that broken cookies and cookie crumbs are up for grabs," said Gregory, who'd brought cookies she'd cut out of dough to resemble lips.

Although this activity is finished, there's lots more for volunteers to do. And that's why additional volunteers are now being recruited to help the 215 people who already help, Lawrence said.

"We have volunteers who do things like sit with patients and essentially provide some friendly support to the family too. But not everyone is comfortable being with someone who is terminally ill, and that's ok because we have plenty of other things they can do," she said.

For example, organizational volunteers can help with everything from fundraising to office work, Lawrence said.

Last year, volunteers donated more than 12,000 hours, and that represented a cost-savings of about $250,000 to the organization, she said.

A training class for new volunteers is scheduled for Feb. 19 and 26, and will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Lawrence said.

Registration is required but will be accepted until Feb. 17. Interested individuals can contact Lawrence at 304-264-0406, ext. 1224, or email

Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or

MARTINSBURG - Stephanie See was among friends Tuesday morning when she brought homemade cookies - pink hearts with colored sprinkles on top - to Hospice of the Panhandle's education center, where more than a dozen volunteers were already boxing goodies.

See, who lives in Summit Point, first got involved with hospice after her father had a stroke. Despite his death in 2005, she's continued to volunteer locally - helping by making phone calls from home, and also doing clerical work one day a week.

"There's just no doubt to me how important hospice is, and what a difference they make in the community," See said.

Hospice launches new program to help those with heart disease


It’s a fact – more people die of heart disease than from any other cause in West Virginia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2013, 4,666 West Virginians died from heart disease. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources estimates that almost 13 percent of West Virginia residents have been diagnosed with some form of heart disease. Our unhealthy lifestyles, habits, choices and heredity all play a part in this sad reality.

Hospice of the Panhandle wants to provide community members who have advanced-stage heart disease a better way to manage the disease.

Hospice’s new program, "Helping Hearts,” is designed for those in the advanced stages of heart disease who are not candidates for a transplant or surgery. These patients experience shortness of breath when resting. They often have swelling, chest pain and are anxious. People in the advanced stage of heart disease often make many trips to the emergency room for chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness.

"We know that there are many patients in our area who have suffered heart disease for years – some of them for decades. Now, they simply want to be more comfortable,” said Hospice medical director, Dr. Sarah Phillips. "We think that ‘Helping Hearts’ can help.”

Helping Hearts of the Panhandle will launch in February. Its goal is to help people with advanced heart disease manage their symptoms at home so that they can enjoy better quality of life and avoid trips to the hospital.

Helping Hearts patients receive home visits by a "care team.” The nurse on the team monitors symptoms, medications and educates patients and families about what to do when symptoms flare up. The nurse also helps the patient put together an emergency plan to be implemented when symptoms are out of control. This plan is based on what has worked for the patient in the past and what support they have in the home.

All Helping Hearts patients consult with an occupational therapist so they can continue to participate in daily activities they enjoy. This might mean modifying the activity to align with abilities or learning energy conservation techniques to make the most of each day.

Each patient also consults with a registered dietitian who helps him or her learn about the role that food plays in managing symptoms. The dietitian also will teach the patient how to enjoy favorite foods without aggravating symptoms.

"I think a fairly good example is a patient who might love Chinese food, which is typically high in sodium. The patient gets to have that meal, but the dietitian helps him to understand the need to closely monitor the rest of the day’s sodium intake,” said clinical director Sara Tennant, who helped design the program.

The care team also includes home health aides, social workers, chaplains and grief counselors.

Each Helping Hearts member receives a workbook that includes information about medications typically used to treat symptoms, a chart to track medications and refills, and a personalized emergency plan.

Hospice clinicians believe most Helping Hearts patients will receive assistance for about four to six months as their disease progresses.

Like other hospice services, Helping Hearts is covered by Medicare, West Virginia Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Under the plan, patients are eligible to receive oxygen, medical supplies and medications related to heart disease. This insurance coverage makes the program affordable.

To find out more about Helping Hearts of the Panhandle, call (304) 264-0406 or go to

Have a plan when caring for loved ones


By Ashley Horst, Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator

Caring for a loved one is difficult. It's physically, emotionally, mentally and financially draining, but there are some steps you can take to make it easier on yourself or a loved one. Here a few practical tips I have picked up from observing our patients and their caregivers and from helping my mom care for my grandfather for the last two years of his life.

A few years ago I called a patient's home to set up an interview for an article I was writing. I spoke with his wife who was his caregiver. When I asked her when I could come speak with them, his wife was very specific about days and times when they were available. She explained to me that Hospice staff came on Tuesdays and Fridays. Someone from their local senior services organization came on Wednesdays to help with housekeeping. Her neighbor comes over on Thursdays so that she could get her hair done and run errands. Then they don't see visitors on Mondays because they need a break from having people in and out of their home since their family frequently visited during the weekends.

The first thing that struck me during our conversation was that she was so smart to get help. She wasn't trying to take care of her husband by herself. She enlisted the help of community agencies, family and friends in caring for her husband and their home.

The second part was that she had a schedule that worked for them and stuck to it. She spread out the help they received on different days so that they were supported throughout the week. She scheduled time to get out of the house and take care of herself. They also included time for themselves. They knew that their time together was limited and deliberately carved out time for just the two of them to rest and relax together.

Keeping a schedule helps both the caregiver and the person who needs care, especially for those with Alzheimer's or dementia. Reaching out for help and having a schedule doesn't mean that it won't be overwhelming at times, but it gives the caregiver a break and eases the many tasks that they face every day.

An important note about keeping a schedule is that you also have to be flexible and accept that things can change quickly. I remember canceling several doctors' appointments for my grandfather because he decided that he didn't want to go.

A second tip that my mom shared with me is that you have to keep a sense of humor. Laughing together raises everyone's spirits.

For example, when I would keep my grandfather company, he would sometimes smile and ask, "What's new at the zoo?"

It was not uncommon for him to ask this same question several times during the same visit. However, each time we would make up different stories about the animals at the zoo saying things like, "Well, the penguins escaped again and have set up camp with the flamingos. They decided that they like the warmer weather."

We talked about this new turn of events at the zoo, adding details and pointing out problems or solutions. We both knew that it wasn't real, but it was fun and gave us something to talk about during a time when Pop's dementia could make it difficult for him to participate in a conversation.

Another tip that my mom pointed out was to let your loved one be as independent as possible because doing everything for them makes them feel useless. Let them do as many of their daily tasks as they safely can. For example, while it may be overwhelming for someone with dementia to pick out their clothes, giving them two options can give them a measure of control over their lives.

Asking for their advice can also make them feel useful and can be helpful to the caregiver as well. Even if person's advice isn't helpful, make sure you listen respectfully so that you protect the person's dignity.

For example, my grandfather and I had many conversations about what I could do with our steeply sloped back yard. I would ask him what he would do with it, and my grandfather, who was an avid gardener and had been in the Army Corps of Engineers, would tell me about grading soil, retaining walls and which plants would prevent erosion. I learned a lot about landscaping during that time, and he enjoyed sharing the knowledge that he had collected over the last 85 years.

Finally, take time to listen to your loved one. Many people find comfort in sharing stories of the past. You will also find comfort in those stories when your loved one is no longer around to tell them.

No matter how many tips I give, caregiving will still be hard work, and each of us will be a caregiver for someone else during our lives. Keeping these tips in mind or sharing them with others can make the load a little easier to carry each day.

To learn more about Hospice of the Panhandle, call 304-364-0406 or visit

Ashley Horst is the fundraising and marketing coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1223, or

Chaplains and their role in spiritual care


By Arion M. Lillard, Hospice Chaplain

Describing spiritual care and the work of a chaplain in the field of healthcare comes with many challenges. Most people's general understanding of a chaplain's role is that of a clergy member who wants to stop by and offer instruction about the Bible and perhaps "save" you from your sins before you leave this world. Of course, chaplains can definitely fulfill this role and they often do. But there is much more to spiritual care and what a professional chaplain can offer, especially as as it pertains to the end-of-life journey that our patients and families at Hospice of the Panhandle are on.

Spiritual care is difficult to conceptualize. A patient who is suffering a life-threatening illness often can grasp the concept of illness and its ultimate effect. On the other hand, spiritual care is unseen. Because a patient or family cannot see it and its effectiveness, spiritual care can become misunderstood. Furthermore, since spiritual care is unseen on the outside, it remains unseen within us as well. Despite this, a clinical chaplain acts as a guide who assists patients and families to a place where they can see and understand.

So how does the 'unseen' become 'seen'?

Great revelations, insights, or 'ah-ha' moments don't happen by simply turning on a light switch. Have you ever felt disconnected, but you don't quite knowing what you're feeling disconnected from? Chaplains who provide spiritual care for families and patients dealing with end-of-life concerns can help them to identify the root cause of feeling disconnected. They can also assist in 'connecting' with the unseen world. Chaplains, patients, and family members often discuss thoughts and feelings related to illnesses and what these emotions contribute to life on a broader spectrum. Chaplains then provide support to patients and families by applying what they have come to see and understand about the world around them, while making connections to that unseen spirit that lies within all of us.

Dedication to understanding the spiritual journey of life, both in sickness and health, takes work. However, being open, along with a willingness to 'see' the 'unseen' ultimately leads the patient and family to recognize that small flicker of spiritual light that resides in all of us. This is the role of a chaplain and the essence of spiritual care.

For more information about Hospice of the Panhandle, or its spiritual care program, call (304) 264-0406 or visit online at

Arion M. Lillard is a chaplain for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at (304) 264-0406 or

Take time to cherish the memories of loved ones


By Cindy Burdette, MA LPC

The holidays can be an especially difficult time for those who are grieving, even if they feel they were actually doing pretty well up to that point. For many of those who we see at Hospice of the Panhandle's Center for Grief Support, their goal is simply to "survive" the holidays. One of the things that we as grief counselors do is to help them create their own personal "survival kit."

Each grieving person's survival kit may be a little different, depending on their particular situation and what they think will be difficult for them. Below are some ideas of what to include:

Surround yourself with people who understand. Whether that is a support group, family or special friends, make sure you have some time scheduled with these people. Their presence and understanding will be especially important as you try to navigate this difficult time.

Cherish your happy memories. Choose to focus on happy memories with your deceased loved one and stay away from particularly sad or guilt-producing memories.

Remember your loved one with something special. Try to use things that connect you to your departed loved ones (a recipe, a particular scent, a piece of jewelry or an item of clothing). Even though we no longer have a relationship of presence with them, they are still very much a part of our lives emotionally, spiritually and through our memories.

Embrace a spirit of giving. Whether that is a monetary donation or a donation of time, do something to honor the memory of your loved one. It is even more meaningful if it is a cause that was special to them.

Make special plans. This could be related to the holiday season or it could have nothing to do with the holidays. Go to a matinee with a friend one afternoon or bundle up and take a walk through a nearby park. It will give you something positive to look forward to.

Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is an effective method to allow you to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. You can do it the traditional way, using a notebook and pen or you can do it on your computer and password protect your document.

Have compassion for you. It's O.K. if you cry more. It's O.K. if you are more irritable than normal. It's O.K. if you have to say "no" to things. Trust yourself that you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.

Find the right balance. Try to make you sure you have both some time by yourself and some time with others. It is important not to totally isolate yourself while also not taxing yourself unnecessarily with trying to do too much.

Make time to remember your loved one. This could be something you do in private, lighting a candle and talking to them or listening to some music they enjoyed. It could also be done as a family, visiting the gravesite together and releasing some balloons or sharing favorite memories around a meal.

If you are grieving, assemble your holiday survival kit today. You can start with some of the things listed above and then include other things you think may work for you. It will help you prepare for and "survive" the holidays.

Hospice of the Panhandle provides grief counseling, support groups and information free of charge to individuals in Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire and Morgan County. For more information about these services for yourself or someone you know, call 304-264-3902.

Cindy Burdette is a licensed counselor at the Hospice of the Panhandle Center for Grief Support. She has been providing counseling services in the Eastern Panhandle for more than 20 years. She can be reached at 304-264-3902 or

Hospice cares for patients and families


By Erin Rouse, Inpatient Facility Team Leader

One of the great pleasures in my job as the inpatient facility team leader at Hospice of the Panhandle is witnessing a family's love and devotion. One particular family that I got to know over the course of several months was especially devoted to a wonderful patient of ours, who spent nearly three months with us.

Before coming to stay at the inpatient facility, the patient had had three hospitalizations for recurrent urinary tract infections and sepsis. She came to the IPF as a residential patient at the beginning of July. When she was admitted, her prognosis was not good; her life expectancy was thought to be days to weeks.

However, something remarkable happened. Over the next few days, the patient became more comfortable and began eating a little more. She became stronger! The patient's husband rarely left her side, and was delighted to see her more like her old self. Her children came to visit. They spent time in her room, watched TV, laughed and held her hand. They used the family kitchen, enjoying family meals together and grabbing a cup of coffee when needed. In the family living room, one of the children from out of town was able to work the facility's free Wi-Fi helped him to do that.

Over the course of the patient's 2-month stay, her husband of 65 years spent every night with her. The staff brought another hospital bed in the room so that he could sleep right next to his wife. What amazing love and devotion! The staff and I were so touched!

After the patient died, her daughter sent a thank you note expressing her gratitude for the care that was provided to her mother. In her note she said that Hospice's IPF staff was excellent, caring and compassionate. Not only did team members care for her mother, but for the entire family as well. Each time a staff member would leave the room, he or she would not only ask the patient if she needed anything. Staff would also ask the patient's husband and any family members in the room had any needs as well.

The daughter said she was touched by the fact that not only was their mother receiving excellent care, but so was her father!

We were privileged to take care of both! This beautiful family allowed us to share a sacred special time. And we are grateful.

Having difficult conversations


By Maria Lorensen, development director

A couple of weeks ago, while I was at the hairdresser, I listened to my stylist have a very matter-of-fact conversation with a woman whose hair she was styling. Actually, the woman, a lovely brunette in her early 70s, who I had seen many times over the years, was wearing a wig. My hairdresser was styling that.

The conversation focused on the woman's schedule for the next few days the trip to the hairdresser, to the grocery store, to the hospital for a chemotherapy treatment and finally, to the funeral home to make her final arrangements.

I was stunned - stunned by the fact that this woman, who while clearly fighting a terminal disease, was looking ahead to her future in such a matter-of-fact way. When I spoke to my hairdresser about the woman after she had left the salon, I asked about the woman's prognosis. My hairdresser said it wasn't very good, but that the woman wanted to continue to undergo treatments (her physician had given her a year to live if she treated her cancer aggressively, about three months with no treatment). A widow with an adult son (who had accompanied her to the hairdresser), she seemed completely at ease talking about her plans, with a person who obviously knew her well.

Kudos to her! This is always so difficult. I think of times in my own life, when family members were facing similar challenges. I have a very early memory of my paternal grandmother "Aida" was my name for her. A strong woman of Eastern European stock, she walked about a mile and a half to daily Mass. I have a photo on my windowsill that I look at every day, taken when I was probably about 4. Aida's gray hair is pulled back in a wispy bun, she's wearing a warm sweater, her cane is in front of her, her "sensible shoes" are front and center. I'm seated on a stool right next to her.

At the end of her life, she suffered from heart disease. I have a strong recollection of the last months of her life, when she was bedfast. She had a strong desire to stay at home (even in the days before hospice was well known in the U.S.). She told her husband, as well as my father, his brother and four sisters exactly what she wanted, where she wanted to be in her bed, in her bedroom, in her home of 50+ years. She also told them what she wanted her funeral to be like.

I think of many hospice patients I've met over the years and their families who struggle with their illness, their anger, their sadness. But I've also witnessed many who are just like my Aida, and my friend at the hairdresser patients and families who have the "difficult" conversation, know what they want, and how they want to spend their final days. In many of these cases, hospice helps facilitate the conversations. And we can do that not only for hospice patients, but for anyone in the community by assisting them put advance directives in place even before they face a life-threatening illness.

If you have questions about advance directives, give Hospice of the Panhandle a call at 304-264-0406.

Maria Lorensen is the development director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at mlorensen@hospiceotp.orgor (304) 264-0406, ext. 1225.

Laughter, hope and love equal hospice


By Dr. Sarah Phillips, medical director

One of my favorite Broadway musicals is a show called "Rent." I first made the trip to New York City to see this production when I was in college. I was profoundly moved by its powerful message. Several of the principal characters are facing the reality of having a terminal illness. Yes, there is anger, sadness, and fear - emotions often present when accepting one's own mortality. But more importantly there is laughter, hope, and love.

In the end, the characters who are dying teach their comrades who are not ill, as well as the audience, how to live. Those who were terminally ill did not let their disease define them but instead embraced life. I walked out of that theater grateful for the reminders: Live life to its fullest. Cherish every moment. Take chances. Love big and hard. In the end, friendships and family are the only things that really matter.

I would have never imagined at that time that my career would offer me these same reminders each and every day. I am also eternally grateful for the opportunity to learn from those whose time on this Earth is drawing to an end.

While I do not meet every patient Hospice of the Panhandle has the honor of serving, I do hear every name and often hear stories that bring so much value to the work that I do. Every week the hospice teams consisting of nurses, chaplains, aides, bereavement staff, volunteer staff, and social workers meet. Every meeting starts out the same way.

We reflect on each patient who has passed away the prior week. Each team members has the opportunity to share. We share funny stories, stories about the patient's accomplishments, our favorite memories from our home visits. We talk about the loved ones and caregivers; we acknowledge all that they gave, how they showed love in the most incredible way, and who they lost. And then there are the times that we mention the lessons we ourselves have learned in the process of caring for this individual. After the reflections have concluded, team members pour colored sand into a large glass vase. Layers of color week in and week out create a diverse and beautiful display representing those valuable lessons, those fond memories, and most importantly the celebration of life that we have had the privilege of sharing.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

- From the song "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent"

Dr. Sarah Phillips is the medical director at Hospice of the Panhandle.

Hospice: Helping patients reach their goals


By Julie Sayre, LSW

At the end of life, families and patients often come across obstacles that are preventing them from reaching goals that they may have in order to provide the best care for their loved one or themselves. It is my job to help them overcome those obstacles and focus on enjoying the time they have left, without worry.

I am the social worker at the Hospice of the Panhandle Inpatient Facility, which gives me the opportunity to work with our patients at our facility as well as in their homes. Recently, we had a patient who was living by himself and received care assistance only from his neighbor. This gentleman, "Tim," * did not have any local family.

Tim had decided that when he was no longer able to care for himself he would like to go into a nursing home, but first would like to find placement for his dog. Tim had a 5-year-old dog named Hercules that he rescued. But Tim really credited Hercules for rescuing Tim from a deep depression. Many of us count our pets as our family, and to Tim, Hercules was no different.

As Tim declined, he continued to care for his dog, even better than he cared for himself. Tim had become so ill that he was not able to easily get off the couch or take his medications. But he was still taking good care of Hercules. I had visited Tim at his home to talk to him about if it was time for him to come to our Inpatient facility while we would look for permanent placement for him. Tim declined my offer because he didn't have a place for Hercules to go. I returned the next day to talk to Tim. He was so ill that day that he could not get off the couch. Tim agreed to come to the IPF only when I promised I would find a new home for Hercules.

Within four days, we found placement for Tim and I searched diligently for a new home for Hercules. A few days later, we found a forever home for Hercules and Tim, his loving owner, passed away the same day. I would like to think that he was comfortable knowing his "family" was going to be well cared for.

Whether it is obstacles surrounding long term placement of a loved one, concern for family members , or even providing emotional support through difficult decisions that are made at the end of life, it's my privilege to be that support.

*Patient's name has been changed.

Julie Sayre is a social worker at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406

Philanthropists honored at event in Winchester


By Maria Lorensen

Caption for photo: Representatives from Hospice of the Panhandle recognize David Asam as their 2015 Distinguished Fundraising Volunteer. In the photo from left are Rev. G.T. Schramm, president of Hospice of the Panhandle's board of directors; Maria Lorensen, development director; Dr. Craig Winkel, secretary of Hospice of the Panhandle's board of directors; Christian Asam, brother of award recipient; David Asam, 2015 Distinguished Fundraising Volunteer and chairman of the Hospice of the Panhandle board of director's fundraising committee; Adrienne Asam, wife of award recipient; Margaret Cogswell, CEO; and Ashley Horst, marketing & fundraising coordinator.

Eight outstanding volunteer fundraisers, including a youth philanthropist and the area's individual philanthropist of the year, were honored for National Philanthropy Day on Friday.

The Tri-State Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals recognized 20 volunteers from West Virginia and Virginia at its annual philanthropy day celebration at Millwood Station. About 150 members of the nonprofit community, businesses and area public officials gathered for a luncheon to congratulate the award winners.

"Is this not the best day?," said AFP Tri-State Chapter President Jenny Grooms. "Aren't these people amazing?"

Among the winners were Mitchell Bartoldson, the recipient of the first-ever Youth in Philanthropy Award, who said he was humbled to be recognized. He was nominated by Chris Johnson from Panhandle Home Health.

"As a philanthropist, it's not always about the funds raised by the talents and treasures you uncover along the way," Johnson wrote in Bartoldson's application.

Bartoldson, a senior at Martinsburg High School, volunteers for many community organizations such as the American Cancer Society, United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, the Good Samaritan Dinner and C-CAP Loaves and Fishes food pantry.

Ray Alvarez, recognized as the individual philanthropist of the year and nominated by Shepherd University, couldn't attend the ceremony. In a videotaped interview, he said he was thrilled to receive the award and appreciated the work done by the professional fundraising group. Alvarez, a Shepherd alumna, has been grateful for the support given to him by the college (now a university) during a difficult time in his life.

In 1958, Professor Charles Printz helped Alvarez secure $100 in financial aid for tuition. In 1962, Alvarez graduated from Shepherd with a degree in business administration.

After retiring from Honeywell in 1998 and moving back to the area, Alvarez has made it his personal goal to give back to the school that gave him so much.

"Ray is just an amazing person - so incredibly generous not just to the school but to so many other organizations," said his nominator Niccole Rolls. "The community is grateful."

Other distinguished fundraising volunteers attending the event include David Asam, nominated by Hospice of the Panhandle; Steve Cox, nominated by Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries; Michelle Harlow, nominated by Panhandle Home Health; Paul "Soupy" Hillyard, nominated by Shepherd University; Gail Moxley, nominated by the Martinsburg Rotary Club; and Susan Snowden, nominated by University Healthcare Foundation.

Each distinguished volunteer was given a medallion and a certificate. WINC-FM morning radio personality Barry Lee read a brief description of each volunteer who was recognized. The volunteers were described as dedicated, devoted, loyal, compassionate and creative.

"This was such a wonderful event," said Martinsburg mayor George Karos, who also attended. "To see what these folks do for all these nonprofit organizations - it's just great. They are really making a difference. People in the Eastern Panhandle should be very proud."

Getting that one chance to earn someone's trust


By Danielle Ruble, Access Team Leader

One shot. It's just one shot, one visit, one conversation, one chance to earn your trust and confidence in our skills and ability to provide excellent care to you or your loved one.

Being an access (admissions) nurse for Hospice of the Panhandle means meeting new people every day. It means teaming up with physicians, being a patient advocate, and riding a new roller coaster of emotions every day. It means having difficult conversations and guiding members of our own community in the right direction.

Being an access nurse is difficult but very rewarding work. We are the first Hospice of the Panhandle employee to visit a home. It's our voice, our words, and our empathy that can effect whether someone is able to accept Hospice care into the home. In just one visit, we describe the Hospice philosophy and goals, we assess an individual's current condition, and work to individualize one's plan of care. Visits can be completed in the home, hospital, nursing homes, or personal care homes. We recognize that whatever the type of home a person resides in, it is someone's personal and sometimes very private - space for the patient and family, and we are privileged to be invited.

When it comes to working at Hospice of the Panhandle, I often hear "Oh, it takes a special person" or "I don't know how you do that." Our patients, who have life-limiting illnesses are often so very tired, they feel drained and emotional. So do their families.

The decision for them to seek palliative (also known as comfort) care is also very personal and often includes discussion with patients' closest support systems.

The fact I'm asked to be a part of these moments is beyond fulfilling.

So, to those of you who have called - more than 925 of you in 2015 alone, thank you!

Thank you for trusting me, thank you for sharing your story with me, and thank you for giving Hospice of the Panhandle that one shot.

Danielle Ruble, RN, BSN, is the access team leader at Hospice of the Panhandle.

Stories share the mission of Hospice of the Panhandle


By Margaret Cogswell, Hospice of the Panhandle

As CEO for Hospice of the Panhandle, I naturally spend time looking at lots of numbers. Some of them make my eyes cross and some of them are strong indicators at where we are being successful and where we need to concentrate our efforts. But I've always felt one of the most important ways to understand hospice care is through the use of stories. Stories are the most powerful tool we have to help each other understand our experiences. After spending 28 years at the helm at this agency, I have heard so many touching and compelling stories. There have been stories of bravery - a soldier who fought in World War II, sharing his memories of being shot at by the enemy. There have been stories of compassion - a nurse who travels out to a patient's home in the middle of a snowstorm, and who sits with the patient and then his family long after the patient passes away. And mostly, there have been stories of love- a young patient in his early 40s saying goodbye to his two young children and wife who hold his hand at his bedside.

I am moved by all these stories- some that I witness, and some that our staff share with me. These experiences are what continue to motivate me, and I hope they will motivate you - to keep supporting our organization in large and small ways, to volunteer, and to share this work with others.

I recently had occasion to recall an old story, an experience I had back in the early days of hospice when I was the only paid staff member and we had a handful of volunteers. We had a patient in our program with whom I was familiar and something told me to stop by to see the patient and family. That wasn't something I did regularly and I don't recall why I chose that particular day or time. When I came to the patient's home, it was clear to me that the patient would die very soon. I was able to stay with the patient and family during this time. While this happened more than 25 years ago, I still recall the loving way the family gathered around the bedside and how members read Scripture together and recited prayers. I was a witness and a participant in a "good death." Recently, another member of this same family died and hospice was able to serve the family once again.

How our program has evolved, changed and improved since that first death! Once again the family was at the bedside and incredibly supportive of each other and the patient. I was not present, but one of our incredible hospice nurses was at the bedside, and she, too, was moved by witnessing this family.

Hospice staff and volunteers are witnesses to strength and courage. We see the good and sometimes the bad. Our lives are changed by our work and I, for one, would not trade it for anything else.

As we celebrate National Hospice Month, please join me in retelling your stories of Hospice - the experiences you've had and how they've changed your life. They are powerful tools that help others receive this very special care.

Margaret Cogswell, RN, CHPCA, is the CEO of Hospice of the Panhandle.

Don't give up your peace of mind


By Ashley Horst, Hospice of the Panhandle

A week or so ago, a friend of mine got a bill in the mail for a relatively minor procedure performed at her local hospital. She was shocked to find out that the bill, even after her insurance company paid their portion, was more than $3,000! Frustrated and upset, she had to set up a payment plan as she certainly couldn't pay the bill all at once.

My friend will pay the bill off a little at a time. In a few years, she won't even think about the bill or even the procedure as it showed that everything was fine. It's an inconvenience but thankfully won't have a lasting impact on her. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for everyone who requires medical attention for an illness, medical condition or injury, especially at the end of life.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans believed that healthcare was the fourth most important problem facing the country in 2014. On top of that, a separate Jan. 21, 2015, poll showed that the cost of healthcare was the top financial problem facing families, tying for the number one spot with concerns about low wages but easily beating out household debt, which was ranked third.

Both prolonged and sudden illness can be devastating to a family's finances. Medical bills and lost wages (both that of the person who is ill but also of the caregiver) can combine to create a looming mountain of debt that, for many, is impossible to climb.

For those in the advanced stages of illness and who are choosing not to seek curative treatment, hospice care is a cost-effective choice. The primary reason is that hospice services are covered fully by Medicare. So far this year, 85 percent of patients of Hospice of the Panhandle patients have been Medicare beneficiaries. Hospice care is also covered by West Virginia Medicaid and most private insurance plans.

People who choose hospice and are insured by Medicare or West Virginia Medicaid benefit from many covered services. These services include intermittent nursing care that is also available on-call for assistance over the phone or emergency visits at any time of the day or night. The hospice physician is readily available for consultation or a visit when needed, and home health aides provide personal care such as bathing, hair and nail care. Physical, occupational and speech therapy is also offered for the purpose of symptom control or to enable a person to maintain their activities of daily living.

Hospice care is not just for the body. Social workers help with insurance questions, nursing home placement, referral to community resources to meet a patient's needs, and can assist with family communication which can be challenging during times of illness. Hospice chaplains are part of the hospice team to help people who are struggling with spiritual issues or simply find comfort in their presence. Grief counselors can work with patients and their families to learn to cope with an impending loss. Hospice volunteers are also available to make friendly visits, provide transportation to and from doctors' appointments, and to sit with patients who might be alone at the end of life.

All of these services are included under Medicare and Medicaid coverage for those who are eligible for hospice care. Additionally, the hospice benefit of Medicare and Medicaid covers the medications needed for the relief of pain and symptoms related to the person's advanced illness. This includes oxygen and oxygen therapy supplies.

The benefit also covers necessary medical equipment and supplies, which may include a hospital bed, wheelchair, walker, incontinence supplies, and wound and skin care necessities. These are all available based on medical necessity and at no cost to the patient and family.

Finally, Medicare and West Virginia Medicaid also cover a stay at the hospice inpatient facility or hospital when pain or other symptoms cannot be managed in the home. Respite care at either the hospice inpatient facility or a nursing facility is also covered for respite care when the caregiver needs to be absent for a short period of time.

Having all of these services covered by Medicare or Medicaid means that those already facing the challenges that come with advanced illness can cross paying for intermittent in-home care of their to-do list. Under federal law, people who have Medicare will never even receive a bill from hospice.

For those who don't have Medicare or Medicaid, hospice care is covered by most private insurance plans, though what services, medications and supplies are covered will be determined by the terms of the plan.

And what about people who don't have insurance or don't have enough coverage?

One of my coworkers was talking to a group of senior citizens about a year ago and asked if there was anything else they wanted to know about hospice. One of the ladies in the audience, who was very familiar with hospice after having experienced the care with one of her loved ones responded, "Tell them that you won't take their house!"

That is true. Even if you can't pay for care due to not having insurance or the financial resources, you will still get hospice care and hospice will not take your house. Every patient, regardless of their ability to pay for care, gets the "people services" of hospice-intermittent visits by nurses, hospice physician, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, grief counselors and hospice volunteers. You will receive a bill for the care, however, the beauty of being a nonprofit healthcare provider is that donations and fundraisers supported by the community help Hospice of the Panhandle work with people who can't afford to pay for care. You can work with the hospice staff to arrange to pay what you can but Hospice will never take your house if you can't pay your bill.

Hospice is here to give people in the advanced stages of illness peace of mind that they aren't racking up a debt that will be faced by their loved ones after they are gone. Its goal is to give quality, cost-effective care so that people can focus on the important things like spending time with family and friends.

Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached atahorst@hospiceotp.orgor 304-264-0406, ext. 1223.

Cooler weather increases fire risk for oxygen users


As the weather gets colder, you can almost hear a sigh of relief from people who suffer from allergies, especially those who also have advanced lung disease. Less pollen in the air, cooler temperatures and less humidity makes breathing easier. It also brings the danger indoors for people who use oxygen therapy to manage their advanced lung disease.

Oxygen therapy is often prescribed for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other illnesses that affect a person's ability to breathe. People with lung disease may experience symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or fatigue. To ease these symptoms and make breathing easier, oxygen is delivered from an oxygen concentrator or cylinder through tubing and into the nasal passages through a nasal cannula. Regular use of oxygen to manage the symptoms of lung disease can greatly improve the life of someone with COPD.

While there are little to no side effects from using oxygen, oxygen concentrators or cylinders can be a fire risk if precautions are not taken. These precautions become especially important as it gets colder outside and people begin to turn on the heat and start a fire in their woodstoves.

The most important aspect to preventing a fire when an oxygen concentrator or cylinder is present is to avoid introducing a spark that would start a fire. This means that, according to the National Institutes of Health, these items (or any tubing attached to a concentrator or cylinder) should remain at least 6 feet away from wood stoves or fireplaces, baseboard or space heaters, and appliances or electronics that produce heat or have an electric motor.

Do not smoke or allow anyone to smoke in a room where a concentrator is in use. Smoking is the leading factor in fires involving oxygen equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Over the years, hospice nurses and staff have educated many patients and their family members about the dangers of smoking around oxygen equipment. Unfortunately, not all heed their warnings.

Several years ago, one hospice patient continued to smoke while using oxygen despite the warnings provided by the hospice team. Early one particular fall morning, a hospice nurse heard a call over the scanner that emergency personnel were needed for a house fire at the address where this patient lived. When the fire trucks arrived, the entire house was engulfed. The firefighters never had a chance to save the patient.

There are a few other ways to avoid starting a fire fueled by oxygen from a concentrator or cylinder. Making sure that air can circulate around the concentrator is important. This can keep the device from overheating which can cause a fire. Do not cover an oxygen cylinder or concentrator with a blanket, curtain or other fabric or put it in a closet or box. Also keep it clean of dust and dirt by wiping it with a clean cloth but do not use chemical cleaners on it.

Finally, do not use a concentrator with a damaged plug or power cord. These can cause a spark that can start a fire. The concentrator should also be plugged directly into a properly grounded electrical outlet and never into an extension cord.

If you ever have questions about the use of oxygen equipment, always contact the equipment supplier and follow their provided instruction.

Using an oxygen concentrator or cylinder can help those with lung disease feel better and be able to enjoy some of the activities that can be difficult due to their illness. With a few precautions in place-especially as the weather gets colder-oxygen equipment is safe to have in the home.

Hospice of the Panhandle provides professional medical care and volunteer support to those with advanced illnesses, including lung disease, who live in Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan and Hampshire counties. Hospice also supplies oxygen and other medical supplies to hospice patients when prescribed by a doctor and related to the management of their advanced illness. This service is covered by Medicare, WV Medicaid and most private insurance companies when someone is in the last stages of an illness.

For more information about hospice services, call Hospice of the Panhandle at 304-264-0406 or go online

Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached atahorst@hospicetop.orgor (304) 264-0406.

Hospice’s inpatient facility offers peace of mind


By Erin Rouse, BSN

The advanced illness of a loved one can be an uncertain time. There are so many questions to ask. Medical question like "Who will care for Dad?" "What if we can't care for Mom at home?" "What medicines should Grandpa take and when?" "What if the medicines don't work and Uncle Joe is in pain? Then what do we do?" "Who do we call if Grandpa's condition changes suddenly? What if it changes in the middle of the night?"

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. There also bigger questions like, "What will my family do when I'm gone?" "How am I going to cope with losing my husband?"" How do I tell someone I'm sorry for something I did or didn't do in the past?" "Was I a good enough person that I'll go to heaven?" And, "What will happen to me when I die?"

These are all questions that can rob us of the peace that we deserve to experience as we transition through the final stage of living among our family and friends.

One of the tools that Hospice of the Panhandle uses to restore peace of mind to hospice patients and their families is the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility.

Recently Edgar Jones* was admitted to the inpatient facility. He had been fairly healthy for a man in his late 60s until he had a massive heart attack. Ed was treated at a local hospital and then transferred to a larger hospital several hours away. Despite having access to the best medicine and medical procedures available, his heart had been too damaged. He and his family had to make some decisions about how he would spend the remaining weeks of his life.

Ed's first desire was to be closer to home. He wanted to be somewhere where his family and friends could visit him easily and often.

His second decision was not to die at home. He didn't want to burden his wife with the difficult tasks of caring for him as he got weaker.

Finally, Ed didn't want to be in pain. He wanted to be comfortable and surrounded by his loved ones.

Ed, his wife Sue, and their two adult sons decided that Ed would go to the inpatient facility.

He arrived at the facility by ambulance on a hot July day. Immediately, he felt very comfortable there. Ed had his own room where his family could come and go as they pleased. Sue frequently spent the night in the room with him but also felt comfortable going home at night. She saw how attentive the staff were to him, checking on him hourly, and knew he was in good hands.

He was close to home so his son and grandchildren were able to visit regularly. His other son who lived out of town came and was able to telecommute to work using a desk in one of the family living rooms and the WiFi that was available.

Ed had gotten everything he desired. They spent the next month as a family, seeing each other daily. His wife didn't have to care for him at home, but he was in a place that was warm and comforting. Finally, he was comfortable. Anytime he began to experience pain or other symptoms, the hospice staff were there to give him relief.

Ed passed away peacefully. His family, while they mourn his loss, are grateful for the time they spent together. During this time, they had peace of mind knowing that Ed was getting the best care possible. The staff caring for him answered all of their questions about his care and what they could expect. It was the best possible scenario to meet their needs.

The Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility is available to anyone who is in the end stages of an illness. Highly trained nurses, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, grief counselors and physicians provide care in a warm, personal setting. All patients have private rooms, meals that can be customized to their preferences and visitors are welcome at all times.

Three types of care are available to hospice patients at the inpatient facility.

First, general inpatient care is for hospice patients who are experiencing uncontrolled pain and symptoms from their disease. Someone might come to the inpatient facility from their home or a nursing facility to get these symptoms managed rather than going to the hospital. Others come to the inpatient facility from a hospital because they need constant acute care to manage their symptoms. This type of care generally lasts three to five days, and then the person goes home or to a nursing facility. General inpatient care is covered by Medicare, West Virginia Medicaid and most private insurance companies.

Second, respite care is for hospice patients who need to be away from home. Respite care can offer a break to the caregiver so that person can go on vacation, attend an event like a wedding or funeral or simply get a few days of rest from the challenges of caregiving. Respite care may also be available to hospice patients when a caregiver finds themselves in the hospital or needing surgery. Respite care lasts three to five days and is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies.

The final type of care offered at the inpatient facility is residential care. Residential care is for patients who need more care than can be provided in the home but the patient does not have a symptom that is unmanaged. This care can last from a few days through several months. It is not covered by insurance and payment arrangements must be made in advance.

For more information about hospice services and the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility, call 304-264-0406 or go online You can even take a virtual tour of the inpatient facility right from the hospice website or Hospice of the Panhandle's Facebook page, In person tours can also be arranged by calling Maria Lorensen at 304-264-0406.

*Edgar Jones is not the patient's real name.

Erin Rouse is the inpatient facility team leader at Hospice of the Panhandle. She leads a team of dedicated nurses, social workers, home health aides, chaplains, housekeepers and a chef in providing excellent care to individuals with end-stage illnesses.

Hospice patients do not give up, continue reaching goals


By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

A trip to the beach to eat oysters, getting a college degree and going to a concert aren't all activities that you normally think of when you think about hospice patients, but they are all moments that have happened within the last year with the help of Hospice of the Panhandle.

At hospice, we often talk about how we can help our patients live despite their advanced illness. Even from the very first visit, our team is trying to identify how patients can continue reaching goals, enjoying time with family and living life to the fullest. Recently, a hospice nurse who was visiting a patient for the first time learned that the patient had a strong desire to complete her nursing degree. As soon as the hospice nurse returned from her visit, she told the team's social worker what she had learned. That patient's hospice team began working together to help her reach this goal until they were able to present the patient with her certificate.

A few days later, our assistant volunteer coordinator was sitting in a meeting and heard about a patient who really wanted to go to the beach and eat oysters. She immediately began making arrangements. She talked to our inpatient facility chef, who was happy to prepare oysters. Our assistant coordinator then called a volunteer, who said that he would take the patient to a nearby beach. A week later, the patient was sitting on the beach, eating his oysters.

Special meals, birthday and anniversary parties, weddings and graduations - hospice has helped them happen. Hospice staff and volunteers have baked and delivered cookies, cakes, pies, crab legs, squirrel gravy and fried green tomatoes to patients who aren't giving up the things they enjoy just because they are enrolled in hospice.

One of the common misconceptions of hospice care is that it is "giving up." We often hear families say that they don't want to "give up" on their loved one by calling hospice. The reality is that calling hospice is giving a loved one a very special gift. That gift is the opportunity to live life to the fullest when it becomes apparent that the loved one's disease can no longer be cured or that continuing treatments is not going to improve his or her quality of life.

I believe most would agree that a hospice patient who is going fishing regularly with his hospice volunteer hasn't given up on living, nor has the patient who feels well enough to travel all over the country to meet with other veterans.

Helping our patients enjoy moments like these is one of the great joys of hospice. We get the chance to make someone's life better in a very real way. Not only when we get to work with the Dream Foundation to send a patient to a Fleetwood Mac concert, but also in the day-to-day care when we can relieve pain and symptoms, reassure caregivers and help people know what to expect during an incredibly important part of life.

To hospice patients, their families, our staff and volunteers, hospice care is about not giving up. It's about living life to the fullest, even when that time is limited.

Hospice of the Panhandle cares for people in Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson and Morgan counties who are in the advanced stages of illness. The organization provides professional medical care and volunteer support to people in private homes, nursing and assisted living facilities and in the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility. This care is covered by Medicare, WV Medicaid and most private insurers.

For more information about hospice care for yourself or a loved one, call Hospice of the Panhandle at 304-264-0406 or 800-345-6538. You can also get more information online at or find us on Facebook at

Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at or 304-264-0406, ext. 1223.


Tips for coping with chronic lung disease


By Dr. Sarah Phillips

The hot summer months have been tough for Dan since he was diagnosed with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He loves to travel and wants to make the most of the time he has left to visit with family and friends. To help him manage his serious illness, he called hospice. Hospice arranged for him to have portable oxygen and taught him how to use his medications and energy conservation techniques to control his shortness of breath during the summer.

Recently Dan decided that he wanted to go see his sister in Michigan. His hospice team helped him get ready for his trip, making sure that he had everything he needed. They even worked with another hospice in Michigan to make sure that help was available to him while he was visiting his sister.

While on the way home, Dan began having extreme shortness of breath. He practiced the energy conservation techniques that the hospice nurse had taught him but he felt like he needed more help. Dan’s friend who was traveling with him, called Dan’s hospice nurse. Over the next few hours, his nurse worked with a hospice close to where they had stopped to get Dan the assistance he needed. Together, the two hospices got his symptoms managed so that the next day he could continue home.

For people with chronic lung disease, traveling and participating in the summer activities that they love can be difficult. The hot summer months can present extra breathing challenges since heat, humidity, and environmental allergies can to lead flare-ups which can increase difficulty breathing.

Here are some tips to help you breathe easier if you suffer from chronic lung disease.

First, don’t forget to use your inhalers as prescribed by your doctor. Make sure you take them with you if you’re going out and store them in a cool dry location, as the heat can reduce their effectiveness.

Our bodies have to work hard in the summer to maintain normal body temperatures, which means using more oxygen in the effort to cool down. For people with lung disease this can mean increased shortness of breath, chest tightness, and in severe cases need for emergent medical attention.

To help stay cool, plan your outings and time outside on cooler days or during the cooler hours of the day—generally early morning or later in the evening. Wear lightweight clothing and layer if needed so that you can remove layers if you need to cool off.

Drink plenty of cool water. Not only will it cool you off, it also prevents dehydration which helps the lungs work more efficiently. Take a cool shower to lower your body temperature or, if outside at a BBQ, use misters to prevent overheating.

Cool air can also assist in easing breathing. Keep windows and doors in your home and car closed, and use air conditioning to cool your environment and keep allergens out. Don’t forget to keep the filters in your HVAC system clean to prevent dust and mold exposure. While in the car, use the "recirculate” setting on your air conditioning to prevent pollen and other allergens from being pulled into the vehicle. Sometimes sitting near a fan, air conditioning or even standing close to an open freezer for a few minutes may be helpful.

Finally, conserve your energy. Your body is working harder simply because it is hot out. Take frequent breaks when performing physical activity. It is important to take these breaks before you become out of breath. Make sure you schedule enough time for activities since rushing requires more energy.

Careful planning can help you avoid feeling short of breath during the summer months. Staying cool, hydrated and practicing energy conservation will keep you going despite the heat.

Dr. Sarah Phillips is the medical director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She has been a physician with the organization since ? with her specialties being hospice and palliative care and geriatrics.

Hospice of the Panhandle provides professional medical and volunteer support to individuals in the advanced stages of illness, including in the advanced stages of lung disease. Hospice care is covered by Medicare, WV Medicaid and most private insurance plans. This includes oxygen, medications and medical equipment that is related to managing the advanced illness.

For more information about hospice care for you or a loved one, call (304) 264-0406 or go online to


Living life to the fullest, to the end


By Emunah Herzog, RN

Tom was one of the most courageous and stubborn men I have ever met. Tom is not his true name, but his story is true. Together with his wife Bonnie and their 12-year-old son Joe, we sat among whimsical Halloween decorations in their living room during my first nursing visit. Prior to admission to Hospice of the Panhandle, they had battled Tom's malignant melanoma for seven years.

"I want to stay active and work as long as possible," Tom said and right from the start, the open communication among his family and their clarity of vision greatly impressed me.

I recognized what a difficult step accepting hospice care was for them, like it is for so many people who are afraid that hospice means giving up.

Tom was in terrible pain, but understandably reluctant to increase his pain medication.

"I don't want to be a zombie," he said with a frown on his chiseled face.

Week after week, together with the hospice medical director and Tom's primary physician, we adjusted his medication just so. What a fine line we had to walk, and so worth it! Not only did Tom keep working for several months, he and his family were able to enjoy much quality time together.

I'll never forget the visit when he told me about the prior weekend when he and Joe went on a hunting training course in the Blue Ridge Mountains. "I know I won't be around when Joe comes of age, but he'll always remember that his father was there when he first learned how to handle a shotgun. He did really well," Tom beamed.

After visits where I smelled Christmas cookies baking and heard "Jingle Bells" on the living room stereo, we soon sat among Valentine's hearts, then St Patrick's shamrocks. By now the dressings on his leg were extremely bulky while Tom continued losing weight.

"It's like walking around on a telephone pole," he said with his wry humor. Bonnie, always ready to take on a creative challenge and supported by a hospice volunteer, sewed pants that camouflaged Tom's huge leg and fit his ever narrowing waist. Not until the Easter eggs were put away, was Tom too weak to work.

A hospital bed replaced one of the couches in the living room, and Tom was surrounded by his family and several of his loyal work friends every day of his last two weeks. By now he was on so much pain medicine that normally we would have given it intravenously.

"No more needles," Bonnie said, "Tom was adamant about this."

Soon we began to scramble as even the pharmacy wholesaler warned we were about to run out of this amount of oral pain medication. But like everything else, Tom did his death his way. He slipped away between doses, Bonnie and her mother asleep on the living room floor and couch.

I often hear from patients and families that they wish they had gotten hospice care sooner and that they'd been afraid hospice would limit their lifestyle choices. So I hope that telling Tom's story will help dispel some of these fears. Our entire team - from hospice physician to nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, and grief counselors - is dedicated to meeting patients and families where they are.

And the memory of Tom's dogged determination continues to inspire me to help my patients and families travel their very own journeys, together with Hospice.

To learn more about Hospice of the Panhandle, call 304-264-0406 or visit

Emunah Herzog is a registered nurse for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406 or

Taking time to smell the roses, say ‘I love you’


By Sara Tennant, Clinical Director

As the clinical director at Hospice of the Panhandle, I am often asked why I chose to pursue a career in hospice care. The answer is, I'm not really sure I chose hospice care. I think hospice care chose me. Like many others, I have experienced significant losses in my life. Some of them have been sudden; others have not. Each time I had experienced another loss in my life, I took the time to evaluate what I could learn from the saddening situation.

Two of the losses that have helped to guide me down the path to providing excellent end-of-life care were that of my brother and my grandmother.

My brother was killed in a motor vehicle accident at the age of 21, not far from our home. I was the second person to arrive at the scene of the accident. When I rounded the side of the vehicle and saw my brother, I knew he was going to die. While others scrambled around me, I quietly sat there telling him how much I loved him and that I was so sorry but that everything would be OK. He could go. We would find a way to be fine. That rainy night in July, 22 years ago, taught me the value of having the time to say the important things, the things that too many people regret not having said when death comes too soon.

Over time I have learned that more often than not, hospice care makes it possible to have those conversations. Hospice care helps people manage both the symptoms and the situations that allow for these kinds of conversations to happen. Of course, there was no time for a hospice referral for my brother, but there was a lasting impression placed upon my heart about how vitally important it is to have the time to say "I love you."

The loss of my grandmother was very different than that of my brother. My grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After she decided that aggressive treatment was no longer an option, she opted to have hospice care to help with her pain and symptoms so that she could enjoy the time she had left.

We called for help several times during her last few months. The hospice would send someone to the house who would work to get her symptoms managed, so she wouldn't have to go to the hospital, a place she was adamant about not going.

I remember her primary nurse Betsy, who week in and week out, would come and see her even if she wasn't in a crisis. It was so helpful to our family not to have to take "Granny" out to multiple doctor visits each time we needed something.

I remember day and night how the hospice staff was available, no matter the need, great or small.

I also remember the last time my grandmother was able to go outside. Granny had always loved flowers, and I remember her saying to me one sunny afternoon in late June that she would love to see the flowers one more time. I carefully helped her into her wheelchair and took her outside for a trip around the grounds to see all the flowers we had planted at my parents' home that year. I remember how she commented on the different flowers, their vibrant colors, how pretty they were, and how I had to help her carefully lean down so she could smell the roses. We spent quite a bit of time that day looking at the flowers. I will never forget the smile on her face as she thanked me for helping her enjoy them that day.

Over the course of the following week, we watched my grandmother decline. Hospice taught us how to care for her during the dying process and then, exactly one week after her final trip to the gardens, I sat at the side of her bed telling her how much I loved her, that I would miss her and that everything would be OK. Later that night, she took her final breath.

I truly believe that if we had not had hospice involved in her care to help manage her symptoms, she never would have lived to enjoy her final trip to the gardens.

I credit those two experiences with guiding me to hospice care. I learned, with each, the importance of saying "I love you" and for taking the time to make one more enjoyable moment.

More times than not you get that when your loved one is enrolled in hospice care.

Incidentally, it was two years after Granny's death that I was sitting in the classroom about to begin a class on hospice care when Betsy, my grandmother's hospice nurse, walked in to teach the class. The value of hospice came full circle for me. I could help others have the help they need to spend that final time with their loved one.

For more information about Hospice care, call 304-264-0406 or go to

Sara Tennant is the clinical director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1217, or

Fighting the enemy behind the lens of a camera


Hospice patient Paul Ruplenas is recognized for his military service during three wars—World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Pictured here (from left) is Melissa Stocks, hospice aide; Paul Ruplenas; John Sherwood, hospice volunteer; and John Ruplenas.

By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

He is a triple war veteran, a photographer by trade and by avocation, a husband, father and grandfather.

Ninety-six-year-old Peter Ruplenas spent 27 years in the U.S. Army, traveling to many countries, and photographing many famous people as well soldiers in combat. Now, in later life, he enjoys recounting the stories of days gone by and traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial. He is also a patient of Hospice of the Panhandle, receiving care for cerebrovascular disease, which affects the blood vessels in the brain.

"I always had a fear but I was never afraid in combat. I was too busy taking pictures,” Ruplenas said of his time in the service. He served as a combat photographer in World War II, Korea and then Vietnam.

Enlisting in the U.S. Army in June 1941 after being pestered by his friend Al Vento, Ruplenas was initially skeptical about serving. But when his friend assured him that it was better than getting drafted, he told Vento, "I’m giving up a $10 an hour job for this.”

During his career, Ruplenas met and photographed presidents and celebrities, including Johnny Cash, Sugar Ray Robinson and Frank Sinatra, and some of the most famous military men and women in history, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur. His favorite people to photograph, however, were young privates in combat. He had an unending admiration for the American men and women who were out fighting the enemy.

"If the other soldiers ducked down, I would take my pictures and then duck down,” he said. "My job was to document American combat.”

Ruplenas loved his job, and risked his own safety to make sure he got the pictures that would help the U.S. military gather information and plan its next operations. He traded his combat helmet for an Army soft cap because the helmet got in the way of taking pictures.

A helmet wouldn’t have helped him though when a sniper shot him in the hand during the Vietnam War. He and a buddy had been out taking pictures when they came across three infantrymen pinned down by enemy fire. Being a former track and field athlete, he zigzagged across the rice paddy to figure out where the sniper was. He made it about 50 yards when he peeked up to see if he could spot the enemy soldier. He was shot in the hand.

Ruplenas received many awards for his photography and service to his government. He was chosen personally by President Lyndon Baines Johnson to photograph him. And while he was in love with his job, he was also, in his words, 1,000 percent in love with his wife, Hazel Elena.

Ruplenas met Hazel, on a blind date. He took her to a movie and the YWCA. Four hours after he first met her, he proposed.

"She looked at me like ‘Who’s this weirdo’,” Ruplenas said. "But I took her to another movie on a second date and after that movie, she said, ‘Pete, I’m going to marry you.’ We got married two weeks later and were married for 44 happy years.”

Hazel gave birth to two sons, the first in Japan during the Korean War. Their second son, John, followed in his father’s footsteps as a photographer. Hazel passed away in 1986. Ruplenas never remarried.

Nowadays, Ruplenas enjoys traveling to different reunions for veterans. In April, he and John went to Las Vegas for a reunion of men who had served in three wars. He also travels to Washington, D.C., frequently to see the World War II memorial where he enjoys talking to other visitors.

One of the goals of hospice care for Ruplenas is to make sure that he can continue to travel, visit with other veterans and do the things he enjoys. He is benefiting from having hospice services earlier in his disease process because his hospice team can help manage his symptoms so that he feels up to doing the things he loves, spending time with his family and other veterans.

In June, Ruplenas was recognized for his service to his country by Hospice of the Panhandle’s former volunteer of the year, John Sherwood. Sherwood, himself a veteran, presented the combat photographer with a pin and a certificate. This recognition is part of Hospice’s "We Honor Veterans” program.

The initiative, begun several years ago by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, recognizes veterans for their service. It also trains hospice staff to identify and help veterans cope with the unique issues related to military service. This often includes veteran-to-veteran volunteer visits, strengthening partnerships between local hospices and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and educating the community about the needs of veterans at the end of life.

For more information about hospice care for a veteran, call (304) 264-0406 or go to

Hospice assistant volunteer coordinator has had a long journey with agency


By Katrina Stevens, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator

Listening to Adventures in Odyssey, coloring our huge Bernstein bears poster, rollerblading at the park, laughing together and sharing late night snacks are some of my favorite memories with my dad. Most of these things happened while he was in the last stages of his battle with cancer. My father fought cancer for 18 months. During this time, we made some lasting memories together.

Even though I only had my father for the first 10 years of my life, these were some privileged years. My father valued family, especially his little girl. There was always time made to spend with me, going in late to work if he had worked late, riding around on the back roads in his truck and singing some of our favorite music together. Family and quality time together was a high priority in our household and my father was a key part of this.

This didn’t end when he was diagnosed with tongue and throat cancer. As a frightened and upset 10-year-old, I remember Hospice staff coming to our home and helping my mother get my father comfortable when he came home from the hospital. Hospice helped with their presence, guidance, reassurance, needed supplies, phone support and ever-caring staff.

Daddy was admitted to the hospital again where he would stay for three weeks until his death on June 9, 1995, but that wasn’t the end of Hospice’s care for my family.

I watched my mother struggle with intense, and sometimes scary, grief. Then she reached out to Hospice’s grief support services.

"If they can help her stop crying all the time, maybe things will get back to normal,” I thought.

Many months of counseling and becoming a grief volunteer helped both of us with our grief. It was a long road but after about five years of grieving, life started to normalize again. Middle school, first job, high school graduation and college all occurred.

I knew I wanted to graduate from college and work for Hospice in some capacity. I didn’t care what but I was determined to work at Hospice of the Panhandle.

In December 2010, I finally walked through Hospice of the Panhandle doors as an employee. No longer was I a grief client or a volunteer, which I had been since a teenager, but I was the new assistant volunteer coordinator.

I had achieved one of my biggest life goals – a chance to make a difference in others’ lives the way Hospice of the Panhandle had done for me as a child. Twenty years ago this month the seed of Hospice care was planted in my heart where it has continued to grow.

Thanks to Hospice, I realized that you don’t have to die scared or alone and in pain, that people do care and that you can make a difference in the world. Hospice has helped me to grow into the woman I am today, helping others in the final stages of their journey to embrace all of the good days given to them.

For more information about Hospice of the Panhandle call (304) 264-0406 or visit

Katrina Stevens is the assistant volunteer coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at (304) 264-0406, ext. 1227, or

Study finds that hospice care may decrease depression for spouses


By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

I had only been working at Hospice of the Panhandle for a few weeks when my grandmother, my Nanny, passed away. She had congestive heart failure and dementia. Looking back, I believe she would have been eligible for hospice care, but we didn’t know enough about the program to ask for help.

Caring for my grandmother had been tough on my grandfather. It was isolating but gave him a sense of purpose. An Army veteran and member of the Greatest Generation, he was determined that, with the help of his family, he could care for my grandmother himself.

When she died, he was lost. I remember him calling his friends who were widowers themselves and asking them how long this pain and grieving lasted. He was unprepared in so many ways to cope with her loss and this new way of life that he was facing. While losing Nanny was difficult, watching Pop grieve was harder.

In the coming years, he was depressed and, before too long, began exhibiting signs of dementia.

Unfortunately, what I experienced with my grandfather is common. A study done at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai showed that approximately half of spouses experience worsening depression over time after the loss of their husband or wife. The findings of the study were published on May 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Internal Medicine. It measured rates of depression immediately following the death of a spouse and then again two years later.

The study also revealed that the spouses of people who had been cared for by hospice for three or more days showed fewer symptoms of depression than spouses of people who had not received hospice care. While the study did not offer an explanation, I can shed some light on why this is.

Using my experience as an example, my grandfather became increasingly isolated as my grandmother’s condition worsened. Even though he had family support, we all work and have families of our own. This meant that Pop’s schedule revolved around when someone could be there to help. Often it was easier for someone else to run the errand than it was for him to go out which contributed to his isolation. Hospice can help with this.

Hospice care offers volunteer services so that caregivers can take a break. Caregivers sometimes use this time to run errands, meet a friend for coffee or lunch or simply to take an uninterrupted nap. Volunteer support helps caregivers be less isolated and maintain the social relationships that will support them after the loss of their loved one.

While Pop knew that Nanny was not getting better, I don’t think he had mentally prepared himself for the reality that she would die sooner rather than later. Hospice helps with this in two ways. First, hospice staff members educate patients and their caregivers on the disease process that the patient is experiencing. This helps them to know what to expect over the next days, weeks and months.

Second, hospice social workers, chaplains and grief counselors work with patients’ caregivers to help them process their impending loss and teach them ways to cope. While this obviously does not eliminate grieving, it helps people know what healthy grief looks and feels like. Then if their grief is more complicated, they already have a relationship with a grief counselor to whom they can turn for help.

We had recommended to my grandfather that he talk to a grief counselor, but he didn’t want to talk to a stranger about something that was so personal to him. Having this prior relationship would have been a huge help to my grandfather and to all of us.

Finally, this leads to the last way that hospice helps our patients’ caregivers (and many others) experience less depression—Hospice of the Panhandle Grief Support Services. Hospice has grief counselors who can help anyone in the community cope with the loss of a loved one. Grief counselors offer support groups and activities, individual and family grief counseling, literature and supportive phone calls to the families of our patients (and anyone else in the community). This is all provided free of charge.

Hospice also has a great group of volunteers who work with its grief support services to reach out the families of our patients after the families’ losses. This keeps caregivers connected to a great resource should they need additional help coping with their loved ones’ passing.

For my grandfather’s sake, I wish my grandmother had received hospice care. Pop did a great job caring for Nanny but not such a great job caring for himself. With the help of hospice, Pop may have coped better with her loss and enjoyed his life more fully after she was gone.

Hospice of the Panhandle provides medical care and volunteer support to people with advanced illnesses and their families. This care is provided in private residences, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson and Morgan County. Informational visits are available free of charge and at the families’ convenience. For more information about hospice, call (304) 264-0406, go to www.hospiceotp.orgor like Hospice of the Panhandle on Facebook.

Confessions of a Crisis Care Nurse: What I have learned


By Renee Bledsoe, RN

In my six years as a crisis care nurse at Hospice of the Panhandle, I have learned much about symptom control, palliative care philosophies and the disease process. I have many touching stories, and have never received more gratitude for the care that I have provided.  I am so grateful that my career has taken this path because I have received so much more in return.  What I have learned from those with a life-limiting illness and those caring for them (many times around the clock) has been priceless.

So what I have I learned? Here are some items at the top of my list:

I have learned how to be silent. This was hard for me at first.  I’m chatty and I used to worry about finding the right thing to say. But quite often, silence is exactly what is needed in many situations.  Other than "I’m sorry,” which is always a true statement, well-meaning attempts to comfort and reassure someone can actually be upsetting.

I’ve learned how not to judge.  Everyone lives differently, looks different, eats different and prays different, or not at all.  But, love is the least common denominator.  I am often showered by kindness, hugs and attempts to feed me by grateful families. As a crisis care nurse, I’m often in patients’ homes for several hours. During this time, we have a chance to talk and despite all of the differences in our lives, you can always find something in common.

I never forget that I am a guest in someone’s home, and I am often treated like an honored guest regardless of cultural or socioeconomic status. I am proud to have become more culturally literate!

 Many people have unfulfilled dreams or goals, but in the end, most just want to make peace with their family, their friends or their higher power. Unless they are (sadly) very young, I have noticed that patients are more focused on seeing and speaking to their loved ones. They would rather reminisce about  both good times and tough times than dwell on what they had hoped to achieve. This has taught me to focus more on my achievements (however small) instead of what I think I need to do.

 "It’s the little things that matter” and "don’t sweat the small stuff.”

These appear to contradict each other, but they don’t really. Little things like painting someone’s nails or a gentle massage can go a long way in making someone who has been ill feel better, but it’s also important to not to go overboard and overwhelm someone who cannot handle too much stimulation. This has taught me that we need to balance out what’s important with what is reasonable in our lives.

It’s ok to laugh or find things funny or silly, even when you’re sick or sad. It’s ok to be angry when you’re sick or sad. It’s ok to cry when you’re sick, sad or angry.

The human body and human will are truly remarkable. As vulnerable as the flesh can seem, it is a miracle of functionality and a fine tuned machine, it does not wear out readily and fights to the very end.

A relationship with a beloved pet can be just as important as those with family and friends. Those bonds, from both sides, are strong and very important to acknowledge.

Out of all of these though, the number one thing I have learned from working for Hospice is how to live! 

Finally, after 47 years, I know how to cherish the beauty of another day, the simple pleasures in life, my relationships with God, my family and my friends. And, subsequently, recognize the need to be satisfied with the choices I have made or make efforts change them!

Thank you to all those families who have allowed me to help care for their loved ones and have taught me to be a better nurse and a better person!

Hospice patient doesn’t give up on seeing his son get married


With the help of Hospice of the Panhandle, Robert Seem (center) enjoys his son’s wedding. Pictured in the back row (from left): Tara Seem, Stephen Seem, RB Seem, Michael Seem and Thomas Seem

By Ashley Horst, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator

Robert Seem wasn’t sure that he was going to see his second son walk down the aisle on his wedding day last September.Having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, Seem often finds himself short of breath. Even walking short distances is difficult. As the wedding day drew nearer, Seem just wasn’t confident that he could make the four-plus-hour trip to Parkersburg to see Stephen and his soon-to-be wife exchange vows.

Seem wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of attending the wedding yet, though. He wanted to see his son get married, so he was going to do it—with the help of Hospice of the Panhandle.

Seem’s hospice team - comprised of a nurse, nurse team leader and social worker – was aware of what the momentous family moment meant to him. They also knew that with their help, and excellent planning, that he could get there.

"A lot of the care we provided was giving him the support and confidence that he could do this,” said Tasha Fellers-Elliott, Berkeley team leader, "We helped him develop a crisis plan to follow, so that if anything unexpected happened, he would know how to handle it. He also trusted us to make sure that he had everything he needed to make this trip and knew he could call us anytime if he needed something.”

Part of the plan was arranging transportation because Seem didn’t feel comfortable staying overnight. With the help of the Dream Foundation, social work coordinator Sara Cohick arranged limousine transportation through Detailed Destinations, a local private transportation company. Seem said that it was even better that owner Mike Bohrer drove him as Bohrer already knew many of the people who were at the wedding.

For the trip, Hospice supplied Seem with a portable oxygen concentrator, extra oxygen canisters and the medications that he needed to be comfortable. His nurse, Carina Roberts, had already worked with him on energy conservation techniques that helped him keep his energy up, and Bohrer stayed by his side during the wedding festivities and provided not just limo transportation, but also helped navigate Seem’s wheelchair.

It was with the help of hospice that Seem was able to see his son and his beautiful bride, Tara, exchange vows. While the day was exhausting for him, he returned home grateful and full of happy memories. He was so thankful to have been with his family for the celebration.

Seem wouldn’t have been there without hospice, and hospice helps him have better days every day.

"It’s about having peace of mind,” he says, "and knowing that I don’t have to do it everything myself. They treat me like a king. For example, I used to worry about how I was going to get my garbage out to the dumpster. Now my aide helps me with that every week.”

Many times, hospice patients recognize that they can’t do everything they used to, but hospice helps them do the things that they can and want to do.

During a radio interview on WEPM that aired last Thursday, Hospice Board of Directors President GT Schramm summed it up:

"When you’re having more good days than bad days, that’s great, but when the bad days start coming more often, we want to help you change that so that you’re having good days again.”

Hospice teams can help a person have more good days. Hospice not only uses medication to relieve pain and control other symptoms, the agency also can supply medical equipment - like oxygen – to allow people with advanced illnesses become more comfortable. Home health aides assist with personal care and light housekeeping. Social workers help with insurance questions, arranging special moments like this one, and helping families cope with the life changes that come with a progressing illness. Chaplains walk this journey with those who have questions, want to sing hymns or just want to talk. Volunteers provide friendly visits and offer breaks for caregivers, sometimes even baking a favorite dessert for birthdays or other special event. All of these services are provided in the comfort of the person’s own home, whether that is a private residence, nursing home or assisted living facility.

Hospice of the Panhandle’s goal is to help people not give up their good days to their disease, and to give peace of mind so that the person and their family know what to do if a bad day comes. Members of the hospice team are just a phone call away at any hour of the day or night, so that the next day can be better.

Hospice of the Panhandle has cared for its neighbors in Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson and Morgan counties for 35 years. Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle and often writes about the benefits of hospice care for those who are facing an advanced illness. 

Hospice of the Panhandle to celebrate milestone


By Maria Lorensen, Development Director

"But what we celebrate tonight is not just where we have been, but where we are going. The reason we remain committed to hospice care is that we see or hear about how we have changed lives. We know this is good work and we know people continue to struggle"

These are the words that appeared on a final slide (yes, it was a slide show) that was part of a presentation for Hospice of the Panhandle's 25th anniversary. It's hard to believe that the 25th celebration was held 10 years ago next month, and the agency staff, volunteers, Board members and friends are preparing for the next milestone - 35 years!

That celebration will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, on Hospice's Kearneysville campus. The event will draw together current and former volunteers, staff, Board members, community members and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who will offer remarks at 3 p.m.

"To think we are celebrating 35 years - it's just amazing," said the Rev. GT Schramm, the agency's longtime Board chair. "I can remember our groundbreaking for our former building (on Waverly Court) like it was just yesterday."

In fact, that groundbreaking was held almost 20 years to the day - on May 17, 1995 - that the 35th anniversary will be celebrated. And since that time, Hospice has built another two buildings, including a 14-bed inpatient facility - on 17 acres of land in Kearneysville.

But back to the beginning - in 1980, the year Hospice of Martinsburg was founded, 12 volunteers were trained. That first class of volunteers, including Mary Burkhart, Jean Tederick, Joan Palmer and Debbie Townsend Henry, believed in and were committed to quality end-of-life care. And that first year, those volunteers cared for 10 patients and families. After a number of years, there was a need for office space, and Hospice moved to then-Kings Daughters Hospital. Later, Hospice moved to then-City Hospital (1986), and still later, to a house on West Burke Street (1992), to Waverly Court (1995) and to its new campus (2014).

Nina Arnett, a current Hospice of the Panhandle Board member, recalls those early days vividly.

"We were concerned community members, wanting to provide assistance to people who were suffering, and families who were struggling," Arnett said. Arnett had a very personal, special connection with the agency as her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness in February 1980 and died in May 1980.

Her mom was Hospice of Martinsburg's first patient.

At the time, Arnett recognized the great need for an organization that would care for people - and their families - at a most vulnerable time in their lives. Arnett remembers some of her colleagues in those early days - Genie Johnson, Norma Lee Sutherland, Charlie McNutt and Peg Rodgers - who were instrumental in getting the organization started.

Though Arnett hasn't been on the Board since the agency's start, she has been a supporter of Hospice for years - and recently got more heavily involved when she joined the capital campaign team to build the new campus in 2008. When she was asked to re-join the Board in 2012, she agreed.

"It just feels right to be here and be involved," Arnett said. "Just as we were 35 years ago, we are still about the mission."

The mission is what drives Hospice staff and volunteers to care for approximately 150 patients per day, throughout the four-county region - in their homes, and in Hospice's inpatient facility.

"I believe that all of our decisions are really based on our core mission - providing compassionate care to those with life-limiting illness, and offering support for their families," said 28-year CEO Margaret Cogswell. "That's what we've always been about, and this will continue to guide us into the future."

In the 35 years of its existence, Hospice of the Panhandle has cared for more than 12,000 patients. They have been retired teachers and young attorneys. They have been coaches and medical office staff workers. They have been bankers and retired CIA officers. They have been contractors and retired Corning workers. They have been young children and octogenarians. All of them have left a mark on the community, and Hospice of the Panhandle helped ease some of the burden that they and their families felt.

"Our first 35 years is just the beginning," Cogswell said. "We hope the community will join us in our celebration not just of our past, but of our future as well."

For more information about Hospice of the Panhandle's 35th anniversary, or to learn more about Hospice services, call 304-264-0406.

Maria Lorensen is development director at Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1225,


Don’t Give Up…Your Dignity


By Bill White, Community & Provider Relations Director

Hospice care helps people keep their dignity during the advanced stages of illness. Hospice patients can receive professional medical care while staying in the comfort of their own homes, with the extra privacy that brings. Often this makes the patient more comfortable and reduces stress on caregivers, allowing them to focus on spending quality time together.

The services a hospice patient receives depends on what the patient and their caregiver need and want. Some patients may only need a hospice volunteer to drive them to a doctor’s appointment or to help with mowing their lawn so the neighbors don’t get upset. Others may need more personal care, such as with bathing, hair care and trimming fingernails and toenails.

Some patients are fortunate to have a large support group and may not need much assistance. Others may only have a spouse that is not physically able, or emotionally able, to provide the care they need. Under hospice care, the patient and their families decide what is right for them.

Sometimes hospice patients and their caregivers are hesitant to ask for help with personal care. Bathing and personal hygiene are usually very private acts, and it is not always easy to admit when help is needed.

Hospice Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) understands how self-conscious many patients, and sometimes their caregivers, are about help with personal care. As Sharon Santamaria, one of Hospice of the Panhandle’s CNAs explains, "You have to build a relationship where the patient trusts you and to make them comfortable. Sometimes, it takes a few visits before the patient is willing to let you assist them.”

Santamaria says that using humor to relieve the tension is really helpful. Sometimes patients and caregivers join in with the humor.

Santamaria remembered a recent patient, Ed, who lived at Elmcroft, an assisted living facility in Martinsburg with his wife, Iris. Whenever Santamaria would start to help Ed get ready for a bath, Iris would always jokingly say to her, "My name is Marlene, and that’s my man.”

Santamaria stresses that one of the benefits of getting hospice patients enrolled for services as soon as they are eligible is that it allows the patient to become familiar and confident in their hospice team. Then as time goes on and more help is needed, the patient is more comfortable asking for the help he needs because it’s more like asking for help from a friend than from a stranger.

Hospice patients and their team often share a special bond. One family of a hospice patient recently described how their nurse treated them like "real” people, remembering their family events and asking about family members. They also saw her as a real person as she often told them humorous stories about her own family while providing care.

While the main goal of Hospice of the Panhandle is to reduce the pain and symptoms our patients experience, we have a lot more to offer our patients and their families. Helping them live out the final phase of their life in the manner in which they want, with all the dignity and independence they deserve, is also a big part of our mission.



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