Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cooking Through Grief

The kitchen has always been a symbol of comfort and community.  It is a true gathering place for families and friends.  A place to share, refresh, be fed and nurtured.  This culinary culture of support and community was abundantly apparent at Hospice of Santa Cruz County’s first Cooking through Grief group. This unique cooking experience took place on April 24th and May 8th in the kitchen of Resurrection Church’s Markey Hall in Aptos.

This intimate cooking and grief support group of 6 enjoyed the company of each other while picking up new cooking tips and creating new recipes. They also enjoyed the delicious fruits of their labor around a beautifully set table. Heartfelt sharing on the challenges of eating and cooking alone after a partner dies was truly understood by compassionate and understanding ears.  Authentic smiles and laughter were shared between the participants, as well as a few tears, reminding us that grief has a place in our everyday lives, even at the kitchen table around good food, compassionate friends and a supportive hospice community (HSCC facilitators included Shirley Sapena and Cheri Bianchini. Cooking instruction by Adrienne Meier).


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fairways for Kids 2014

Our Friends of Hospice did it again with another amazing golf tournament which benefits Hospice of Santa Cruz County’s grief support programs for children and teens. The tournament also supports our first inaugural Camp Erin©.   Camp Erin is a free, weekend long grief support camp that is designed to help children and teenagers who have experienced the death of someone close to them.  Through traditional, fun camp activities, grief support activities, and interactions with other children and adults, campers learn that they are not alone in their grief.

Besides Fairways for Kids being a fantastic fundraiser, golfing event and dinner, the Friends of Hospice also put together one of the best silent and live auctions in town!  An extensive selection of restaurant gift certificates, culinary baskets and sports tickets were just a sampling of the wide variety of items for auction.

We owe the Friends of Hospice a great deal of gratitude for their long dedicated hours of planning, toting, transporting, decorating, arrainging and hosting one of the most popular and enjoyable fundraisers in the county.

Hats off to Ginny Clark and Kitty Steffen as the chair and co-chair of this not-to-miss event.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why I Became a Pet Companion Dog for Hospice

By Finley
(as told to Linda Donovan)

Finley with owner Sue Murphy

Woof.  I’m Finley and I’d like to discuss what some people might refer to as a “pet project.” That’s right. I’m a pet companion for Hospice of Santa Cruz County and I visit with hospice patients and help to comfort them. If they are tired, I’ll sit quietly next to them and gently offer support. I try to bring a smile to their faces and make a real effort to wag my tail to show appreciation. I’d like to share with you some of the reasons why I chose this occupation. First, let me tell you a little about my history.

Before I became a pet companion for Hospice of Santa Cruz County, my life was so routine. I slept about 16 hours a day, took a short walk here and there, watched TV, and ate whenever food was placed in my bowl. And I made sure to bark to announce the arrival of visitors to my house. But I wanted much more than that. I wanted the excitement and challenge of making a doggone difference in this world. My owner Sue, is a hospice volunteer visitor and she signed me up to be a hospice pet companion. I had to undergo a lot of training – and believe me, this took time, and a lot of work before I got certified. But, hey, it was worth the effort.

I could bark on forever about what this job means to me, but it’s more important to focus on what I bring to hospice patients and their families. They look forward to my visits. After all, I’m cute and really friendly. Of course, not all hospice patients are dog people.  But for those who are, I really enjoy visiting and accepting hugs and petting.  If I can bring a smile to a patient’s face, my work is successful!

If you’d like to learn more about the pet companion program, or if you’d like to be a pet companion, contact Radha or Judy in our volunteer department at (831) 430-3000 and they can share details about becoming a certified pet companion.

And, on behalf of all pets everywhere I encourage you to hug your pet today…it makes everyone feel good!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Medical Heroes

On Wednesday, May 14th the American Red Cross hosted their annual community heroes breakfast.  Dr. Vanessa Little, Emmi Schambeck, R.N. and Tree Dunbar, R.N. were chosen to be honored as the medical heroes of Santa Cruz County.

Dr. Vanessa Little
As Chief Medical Director at Hospice of Santa Cruz County, Dr. Vanessa Little is overseeing the medical care of 191 patients and their families today.  She leads a team that helps her to perform this important task – a cadre of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, hospice aides and volunteers work together in an interdisciplinary team approach to ensure that individuals facing their final months, days and hours can live in comfort and with dignity.  What makes Dr. Little a genuine hero is her fierce commitment to truth, for it is in having difficult conversations with patients and families that Dr. Little often witnesses profound healing.

Many physicians decide to go into hospice and end-of-life medicine later in her careers, but Dr. Little had a feel for what hospice care could be like at an early age.  “Growing up in my home was pretty interesting,” shares Dr. Little.  “My father was a physician so we grew up hearing conversations about medical situations.  My mother rehabilitated animals so it wasn’t uncommon to have wildlife hospice care happening right in our kitchen.  My mother taught me about the importance of allowing a peaceful and dignified death to happen.”

It was during Dr. Little’s residency at Brown University that she realized her desire to study and practice hospice and palliative care medicine.  She recalls a particular patient who was actively dying and remembers the moment that she spoke with his family.  “The easiest thing to do was to not tell them what I knew from a medical standpoint,” she shares. But she mustered the courage and told the patient’s family that she thought he would die that night.  And, the patient did die that night.  “I was scared – scared of being wrong, scared of making people sad, but I realized the importance of facing those fears,” she describes.  “The truth is too important and you don’t want a patient and family to miss the opportunity to be with that truth and to say goodbye”.

When asked what she loves about working in hospice, Dr. Little mentions the interdisciplinary team that cares for the patients and their family.  “I am one spoke on the wheel of this team,” she shares.  Each day, Dr. Little collaborates with the Hospice of Santa Cruz County physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, aides and community medical partners who are caring for the hospice patients and their families.  “A lot of my ideas are around medications and how to make our patients comfortable,” she explains.  And while Dr. Little recognizes that physical comfort is an important piece, she also acknowledges the importance of finding emotional and spiritual reassurance.  The hospice team works together to address these issues that patients and their families are facing.

Dr. Little reflects on the unexpected gift that serious illness can be.  “Illness and death can bring out the best in people,” she shares.  “It demands authenticity.  For me, that authenticity, that truth feeds me.  It’s an honor to be part of people’s lives during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Dr. Little also thrives on finding the right solution for a patient and family so they can live in comfort and with dignity.  “It is not a recipe,” she explains.  “We are constantly asking ‘what does this patient, at this time, in this environment, with these caregivers, and with this disease process need?’  People are unique and we do our best to make sure their unique needs are met throughout their time in hospice care”.

We recognize Dr. Little’s medical expertise and the gift of presence, mindfulness and compassion that she brings to hospice staff, physician colleagues, community partners, and the patients and families we serve.  Dr. Vanessa Little is truly a hero and gift to our community.

Dr. Vanessa Little, from left, and nurses Tree Dunbar and Emmi Shambeck.  (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Tree Dunbar, R.N. and Emmi Schambeck, R.N.
Between the two of them, Hospice of Santa Cruz County nurses Tree Dunbar and Emmi Schambeck have 57 years of experience in caring for the seriously ill and dying in our community.  When asked about what inspires her the most, Emmi answers simply, “Every day inspires me.”  Tree is inspired by the universality of the experience.  Working with people who are dying, knowing that we will all someday experience death, could seem depressing.  These two heroes embrace the challenge and handle the most complex medical and emotional cases because they believe that every one of us is entitled to live, and die, with dignity.

Emmi Schambeck and Tree Dunbar are team leaders at Hospice of Santa Cruz County.  In their role, they each oversee the care of about 60 patients.  They support teams of nurses, social workers, chaplains and aides who provide day-to-day, direct care to patients and their families.  Trust plays an important role in their daily work.  “There is no other situation in which people are so trusting,” Emmi shares.  “Often this is a first time experience for a family and they want guidance”.  Hospice care is provided in residential homes, nursing homes and facilities, and Emmi reflects on both the privilege and responsibility of accompanying a patient and their family on this final journey.  “I offer my expertise and experience and know that the patient and family will choose the tools and support they need.  Each patient and family is different so we first find out what is important to them and then offer our expertise and support.”

The daily activities that these two clinicians perform are diverse and become more complex based on the patient’s needs. Tree and Emmi are skillful multi-taskers.  When they are serving a younger patient, they are busy ordering medications and supplies like a  hospital bed for the home while ensuring  that the patient’s children have the emotional support they need though the process.  When supporting a homeless patient, they can spend hours negotiating with community partners to find appropriate shelter and caregivers so that the patient will be comfortable and safe.   Recently a patient shared that he wanted to marry his longtime partner before he died.  Tree worked with the team to arrange this wish and the team’s chaplain married the couple just days before he died.

Amidst the daily work of management and logistics, Tree and Emmi are deeply drawn to the mystery.  While they feel a sense of accomplishment in treating the physical pain and the emotional and spiritual concerns of their patients, they realize that they are not fully in control of the situation.   “As much as we medicalize it, there is still a mystery to how it unfolds,” Tree shares.  “We try to reassure our patients and families, ease their fears, and help them prepare and understand what to expect.  And then we accompany them through the mystery – it’s an incredible privilege.”

In their respective 30 and 27 years of hospice work, Tree and Emmi have helped thousands of patients and families live, and die, in comfort and with dignity.  They have mentored scores of young nurses, helping them to become seasoned end-of-life care professionals.  Their heroism comes in their openness to show up every day knowing that each patient and family situation they will encounter is unique.  We recognize the profound commitment and dedication these two professionals make to Hospice of Santa Cruz County and to our community.

Dr. Vanessa Little, from left, and nurses Tree Dunbar and Emmi Shambeck. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)