Emmanuel Hospice continues expansive growth


Emmanuel Hospice’s new office space includes a dedicated grief support room, collaborative workspaces and a large conference room. Courtesy Emmanuel Hospice

Since opening in 2013, the team at nonprofit Emmanuel Hospice has grown from one employee to 48, almost all of them full time. 

Executive Director Sara Lowe was the first employee, partnering with St. Ann’s Home to open the new nonprofit. 

Offering hospice services always had been part of the senior living organization’s strategic plan, Lowe said, particularly for the organization’s assistant administer, Sister M. Gabriela Hilke.

Lowe said people at St. Ann’s would live there for years, and then because there weren’t hospice services on-site, an outside provider would come in for the last few weeks of residents’ lives. 

Because residents were asking for the service to be included at St. Ann’s, and with an increase in the number of people needing those services, they saw a need to create the program, Lowe said. She added they also knew many residents didn’t want to or didn’t have the resources to move into a residential hospice unit. 

So, Emmanuel Hospice was meant to be a sustainable way of bringing those services to those at St. Ann’s and in the community. 

Emmanuel Hospice soon after expanded its partnership from St. Ann’s to Clark Retirement Community, Porter Hills and Sunset Retirement Communities to help complete their residents’ and nonresidents’ continuum of care. Each of the organizations provided initial funding, and they all remain actively involved in its oversight. 

Lowe, a licensed social worker, began working part time for Emmanuel and part time for St. Ann’s, soon becoming full time for Emmanuel. 

In 2014, she hired the first team of four people: two nurses, an aide and a spiritual caregiver. 

Lowe’s role initially was executive director and social worker, and everyone else had multiple roles, as well, which is what she said happens at a new organization experiencing significant growth. 

“Everybody kind of wore multiple hats,” she said. “While my title has always been the same with this organization, what the organization needs from me has changed a hundred times over.” 

The number of people served has grown steadily since then. In its first year of service, Emmanuel provided 8,565 care days. In 2017-18, staff provided 32,679 days. 

Emmanuel Hospice cares for more than 95 families each day in West Michigan. Last year, the organization cared for more than 455 patients and an estimated 1,365 caregivers.

In total, the organization has worked with 3,025 family members, served 915 community members through grief support programs, provided education on end-of-life issues to 3,165 area residents and worked with more than 40 volunteers who donated more than 9,100 hours of time.

The nonprofit last month moved into a 5,400-square-foot space at 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids. Its former 3,500-square-foot space was housed within St. Ann’s Home, at 2161 Leonard St. NW.

“That was a wonderful place for us to get our legs underneath us as an organization,” Lowe said. “They've provided really fertile soil for us to grow from.”

The new space includes a dedicated grief support room, collaborative workspaces, a large conference room, space for interdisciplinary team meetings and 13 private offices.

Lowe said the increased space allows staff, many of whom work mostly outside the office, to have somewhere on-site to complete administrative tasks and take private phone calls on behalf of clients. 

The move comes two years after the nonprofit expanded its former headquarters at St. Ann’s to accommodate new team members.

“This year has been a year of, in some ways, kind of pausing and making sure that instead of having a structure that responds to our growth, that we have a supportive network that supports that and allows that to continue,” she said.

“It’s being really intentional in creating a very supportive infrastructure that allows the back-office stuff to get done so that clinicians can be out doing all the things that they do well and to allow us to continue to serve more people.”

Emmanuel recently hired directors of business development and support services.

The nonprofit also recently hired a massage therapist to support the organization’s growing portfolio of complementary therapy offerings, which includes music therapy, massage therapy, companionship and journaling sessions, as well as acupuncture, acupressure, a pet visitor program, essential oils and a virtual reality system.

The nonprofit contracts music therapy services through the Franciscan Life Process Center. Its physicians are contracted through Mercy Health. 

In such a philanthropic community, she also said the organization has been allowed to consider and implement new ideas and services based on the desire of clients and staff. 

“We've also created a culture and an environment where you can have an idea and bring it, and we'll identify a way to make that happen,” Lowe said.

In some ways, she said she is surprised by the growth of the organization, but with such a demand and a strong focus on its core services, the organization’s growth wasn’t unpredictable. 

“We've got a lot of people who work here who are really invested in just doing what it takes to be able to do really good work for the people we serve,” Lowe said. 

“While we're caring for people who happen to be coming to the end of their life, they are very much alive. How can we celebrate that and help them to continue to engage in living? That's what's important for us.”

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