By Tamera Manzanares
Most people who have experienced hospice will tell you, it takes a special person to be a hospice nurse. Rebecca Aither, a hospice nurse in Grand County, does not feel so much special as she does fortunate. Sure, sometimes she finds herself driving to a patient’s home in a blizzard at 2 a.m. or logging a hundred or so daily miles travelling to far reaches of the county. But being able to make patients comfortable as they near end-of-life, and supporting families through this journey, far outweigh the challenges of her job. “The relationships you grow with the patients and their families mean so much,” she said. “It’s a huge honor to be able to help them through such an incredibly emotional and vulnerable time.”
Aither works for Northwest Colorado Health, which has been providing home health and hospice care in Grand County communities since 2015. The organization, which also serves Routt and Moffat counties, expanded its home health and hospice program after the previous Grand County provider discontinued operations. The team has grown to include Certified Nursing Assistants, a physical therapist, occupational therapist and volunteers. All staff, with the exception of a physical therapist who drives from Routt County daily, live in Grand County. Hospice staff often care for patients in their homes but also can come to hospitals and extended care facilities. “We have assembled a great team here,” said Dawn Mathews, a medical social worker with the program. “We’re very excited about having the resources and staff to meet the need here.”
The goal of hospice is to make patients as comfortable as possible, managing their physical pain and symptoms so they can find calmness and closure in various aspects of their lives. Mathews helps both patients and caregivers through this process, assessing their needs, assisting with details such as advance directives and connecting them with community resources. Having 24-7 access to a nurse and the compendium of other hospice services takes a significant burden off of caregivers, giving them time and space to be with their loved one and manage their own emotions and grief.
Mathews and Aither worry that if hospice wasn’t available, patients would have to leave their homes and communities to find care. “Grand County is home to a lot of proud citizens and pioneers,” Aither said. “I wonder if some people would even seek care and what might happen to their health – and the troubles their families would face – if they attempted it on their own.”
Northwest Colorado Health provides hospice care to all residents who need it, regardless of their ability to pay. Although health insurance may cover hospice, expenses often exceed reimbursement. Fundraisers and donations help cover this shortfall. Northwest Colorado Health’s Hospice Daffodils fundraiser on March 13 is an opportunity for Grand County residents to support this service in their communities.
Bunches of fresh cut (unblossomed) daffodils will be for sale at City Market in Granby from 11 am to 2 pm. Each bunch is $5. Mathews hopes the fundraiser will help raise more awareness that hospice is available. “We’re really excited to offer Daffodils here,” she said. “It’s a great way for everyone to see that we’re here and ready to help.”