Hospice provider targets quality initiatives


Emmanuel Hospice helped Edith “Betty” Piepenbrink fulfill a lifelong dream to attend the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give on June 15. Emmanuel Hospice worked with Meijer to make her dream come true before she died Aug. 4. Courtesy Emmanuel Hospice

On the heels of an office expansion in May, Grand Rapids-based Emmanuel Hospice plans to increase its grief support programming, music therapy and community education services in the coming year.

An interfaith joint venture by Sunset, Porter Hills, Clark and St. Ann’s care organizations, Emmanuel Hospice was founded in 2012 at 2161 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids.

In May, the nonprofit with 2016 revenue of $3.3 million expanded its office space by 500 square feet to accommodate eight more staff members — its crew now is up to 35 — and provide a dedicated room for grief support sessions.

The organization serves about 75 people per day in the community or at one of its partner facilities.

Sara Lowe, executive director since Emmanuel opened, said the organization will retain its core services as it grows.

“We provide nurses, caregivers, home health aides, volunteers … massage therapy, music therapy, grief support in people’s homes and out in the community through one-on-one support, groups and the (interfaith) memorial service we are a part of each year,” she said.

Lowe said Emmanuel contracts with Franciscan Life Process Center to provide music therapy to its patients and will continue to grow that service in the coming year.

“In 2018, we are looking to expand our music therapy services and our community-based grief support. When we provide grief support, it’s provided at no charge to the community. We’ll either go to where they are, meet them at a coffee place or have them come into our office. It’s just being able to do more of that.”

Emmanuel has a group of 25 to 30 volunteers who help out with patient care, such as reading or playing games; caregiver support, such as sitting with patients to allow caregivers time to shop, run errands or take some time for themselves; pet therapy; comfort calls; bereavement support and other activities.

The federal government requires that the number of hours hospice volunteers contribute must equal at least 5 percent of the number of patient care hours that paid hospice employees and contract staff provide.

“Volunteers are part of how this movement started in the U.S., and it’s important they remain a part of this organization,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things about hospice.”

She said Emmanuel continues to honor its interfaith beginnings.

“We’re the most proud of that we are a local hospice service with roots in the interfaith tradition,” she said. “We actively participate in the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University. We joined during the Year of Interfaith Understanding (in 2012), and that group has continued to meet.

“(On Sept. 14), we had a communitywide interfaith memorial service at the Dominican Center, and that was very meaningful. It’s for anyone in the community to remember anyone they’ve lost. They don’t have to have been served by our hospice or any hospice, but (the service) recognizes grief is a part of our experience, and we have to recognize that and support each other.”

Lowe said each year’s interfaith memorial is themed, and this year’s service focused on hope. Participants did a planting activity, walked through a labyrinth and flew kites, as well as other hands-on events.

One of the hospice-related services Emmanuel provides is to grant last wishes to patients.

“Helping people to live is really an important part of our mission, even though we’re taking care of people dying,” Lowe said.

“When we meet people, the first thing we ask them is, ‘How do you want to live? What is most important to you?’ Often, people think it’s going to be a big around-the-world trip they want to take. But it’s not that. It’s ‘I want to go fishing.’ When you’re sick, the logistics (for going out) can be overwhelming, and you just want to have a normal life.”

Recently, Emmanuel was able to take a patient who loved golf to the Meijer LPGA Classic.

“Dadd’s Magic Bus donated a stretch limo to bring her to the event,” Lowe said. “Meijer gave her the royal treatment. She was under the ropes all day. She got to hang out with (golfer) Lexi Thompson. Lexi even posted about it on her Instagram.”

On another occasion, Emmanuel arranged for a dying patient to go to a farm and pet and groom a horse.

“(The patient) said, ‘I just want to touch a horse one more time and smell that smell,’” Lowe said. “To bring back those memories for people is so important. We have such an amazing community here in Grand Rapids, so sometimes all you have to do is ask, and people will say yes.

“This is just something we do as an extension of the care we provide. We do have philanthropic support that allows us to devote time and resources to make these things happen.”

In addition to growing its grief support and music therapy services, Lowe said Emmanuel will focus on community education in 2018.

“For us, it is always about … helping people to dispel some of the myths about hospice and remove the stigma,” she said. “We know that earlier hospice intervention, care and support lead to better care and better outcomes for both the individual and the family.”

She said the organization also hopes to increase the number of patients it serves in the next three to five years.

“When you look at the aging community, there certainly are additional people that may be eligible for hospice, and we want to be ready and prepared to serve them and serve them really well.”

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