Challenging and rewarding: Hospice workers provide both care and support

The circle of care for OSF Hospice includes, in front, Deacon Mike LeBeau, left, chaplain; and Erik Barnhart, right, bereavement coordinator and medical social worker. In back, from left, are Lesley Hoffmeyer, clinical supervisor; Courtney Vandewiele, medical social worker; Rachael Latta, registered nurse; Katie Chartier, RN; Sheila Chernick, manager of home health; and Ilene Kotajarvi, volunteer coordinator. Not pictured is Dr. Steven Dosh, medical director.

Editor’s note: Daily News Staff Writer Linda Lobeck had filed two stories for future use before her sudden death Wednesday. We are running these articles to illustrate and honor the fine work she did in her 34-year journalism career at The Daily News. She will be greatly missed.

IRON MOUNTAIN — When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, family and friends form a circle around that person to see to his or her needs.

A similar circle is formed when OSF Home Care Services is contacted for hospice care.

That initial call triggers a number of professionals as well as trained volunteers into action, working with the medical director and attending physician on a care plan for the patient as well as the family.

Social workers such as Courtney Vande Wiele are involved within the first five days of a family starting hospice care, along with nursing and pastoral care.

A Bells for Hospice ceremony took place at Trinity United Methodist Church in Iron Mountain to remember those who have died and to support their family members in the grieving process. Attending the service, in front, from left, were OSF Hospice volunteers Linda LaPlante, Marge Meyers, Diane Schabo and Kay Mattson; Katie Charier, OSF Hospice nurse; and Ilene Kotajarvi, OSF volunteer coordinator. In back, from left, are the Rev. Geri Hamlen of Trinity Methodist Church and Henry McRoberts. (Chris Tomassucci/Daily News Photo)

She said that her goal is to assist and support the patient and family through the transition to hospice-level care.

Some examples would be getting them durable medical equipment, private duty nursing, nutrition services, alternative living environments, advanced directives in place, coping techniques and helping to support the patient and family through the grieving process and end of life.

A social worker typically visits the family once a week in the first two weeks and then bi-weekly after that unless the patient or family requests more.

“I believe that the most important role I play in the circle of care is to actively listen, empathize and validate concerns with the patient, caregivers and family. Very often they have already experienced so much and welcome a supportive listener,” Vande Wiele said.

The role of pastoral care is one that Deacon Mike LeBeau takes seriously. He gets involved at the request of the patient or family or when a nurse tells him he may be needed.

LeBeau provides spiritual and emotional support to the patient and family members, plus those times when counseling is needed for children or grandchildren.

“The nursing staff that I work with is very sensitive to the needs of patients who are dying and need someone,” he said, noting he usually is called when the patient is thought to be close to death. In addition, he will call nursing staff if he sees a patient in pain or otherwise in need of medical attention.

Another vital role Vande Wiele has is to reassure patients and their families they are not alone and hospice is available to assist with any needs. She forwards any information to the hospice team so they can provide the best service possible.

The social worker also coordinates with other agencies. For example, the Upper Peninsula Community Area Progress, or UPCAP, can help with insurance issues while the Department of Health Services assists with in-home patient care.

Vande Wiele has been with OSF Health Services and Hospice since March 2016.

“I soon learned that hospice is a celebration of life — a journey that I would like to share with each and every one of our patients and families. It allows us to serve with the greatest love and care,” Vande Wiele said.

The most difficult part of her role is seeing patients and families struggle to cope with grieving and end-of-life issues, she said.

But this often becomes the most rewarding aspect of her job, she added, when she is able to assist and support them through the grieving process and help them experience life’s joys.

LeBeau finds the most challenging and rewarding part of being chaplain is to bring a patient to a peaceful place of surrender, assisting the family to let go of their loved one and praying for the one who has no faith.

He was involved in youth ministry for many years until he had back surgery that limited his abilities to do youth activities.

“I found myself praying for two years, asking God for direction on where he wanted me,” LeBeau said. It led him to hospice ministry and an OSF chaplain who was instrumental in helping him get this new position.

People may think a bereavement coordinator would only get involved in the hospice care after someone had died but that is far from true for Erik Barnhart.

He helps the rest of the team to provide for patients and caregivers who need early support once the decision is made for hospice.

Anyone who has experienced loss — whether in the hospice program or not — can take part in the grief support services he coordinates through OSF. It is a 13-month program that guides people through the grieving process, he said.

“The most challenging part of my position is working with parents of all ages that have lost a child. One of the most rewarding parts is when we receive notes of appreciation and thanks from the families we serve,” Barnhart said.

The approach to helping someone through bereavement comes in different formats — calls, visits and letters, he said. And people almost always are receptive to these outreaches.

“One of the biggest benefits is that it provides a safe place for stories to be shared and support to be provided,” Barnhart added.

The circle of hospice care and support also includes volunteers, hospice health aides and registered nurses.

During National Home Care and Hospice Month in November, local volunteers and members of OSF Hospice invited family members of the people they have served during the year to attend a special Bells for Hospice ceremony at Trinity Methodist Church in Iron Mountain. Bells were rung to remember those who passed during the year.

The OSF Hospice program came to Dickinson County on Jan. 1, 2011, thanks to the efforts of a local citizens group and the local hospital. The state granted permission for OSF to come to the area and provide the service.