North Hawaii Hospice staff stand in the shape of a heart outside the Waimea office campus. At the center is Katherine Werner, NHH executive director; and (clockwise) staff members Denise Reyes, Gayle Hubbard, Debbie Washburn, Kaiki Gunderson, Kristin Wohlschlagel, Inez Schultz, Nancy Bellati, Sandi Rossi, Dr. John Dawson, volunteer Tiny Henriques, Rachel Real, Nina Millar, Alan Gartenhaus, Renee Gonsalves, Sacha Contreras, Megan McCaffrey and Marshall Cacoulidis.
Sheila Cadwallader and Nancy Bouvet founded the North Hawaii Hospice in 1986 around the kitchen table.
WAIMEA — During National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in November, North Hawaii Hospice (NHH) will celebrate its 30th year serving the North Hawaii community.
“We believe that all patients, their loved ones and their families are unique and deserve care that is personal and individually suited to their needs,” she said. “People facing a serious illness have the right to peace, dignity and comfort. Their care should involve the entire family.”
NHH’s program was the first of its kind in North Hawaii when it opened in 1986, initially at the Waimea Arts Council, then in the small Waimea Tax Office Building and now in a newly renovated office campus on Kawaihae Road near Merriman’s in Waimea.
Their program was conceived when Founder Sheila Cadwallader and a group of concerned community members began studying hospice programs and conducted a needs assessment.
Residents’ support and donations were needed to sustain a program in such a small community. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association, a facility serving a limited population would not be expected to succeed. Further, the daily amount that insurance pays for a hospice patient would be far too small to support a hospice in a rural community.
But NHH was supported by a tremendous community effort and has continued to grow and thrive. Many residents have been touched by the services offered, with a story to tell of giving support and receiving care.
Today, the facility serves 20-30 patients daily in their homes, nursing facilities and, when necessary, in the hospital. NHH is accredited by Medicare and supported by a professional staff of nurses, physicians, volunteers, therapists and nurses’ aides.
“We’ve had the flexibility to change as the environment changed around us,” said Debbie Washburn, RN, CHPN and NHH’s director of clinical services. “Our surrounding population was slow to accept strangers into their homes. It took a number of years to develop trust, but as we grew from serving three patients at a time to 30 our fundraising success grew right along with the needs of the community.”
“This was a significant step for North Hawaii Hospice,” said Werner. “Palliative care helps people make difficult decisions about their treatment. It focuses on the many ways an illness can impact a patient and their family.”
NHH looks forward to continuing to see support for this kind of care by more of the insurance companies that serve Hawaii.
Public perception of hospice care, too, has changed through the years, Werner noted.
“Hospice care is not just for terminal cancer, as people used to think. We can help with any end-of-life diagnosis,” she said. “I think people are getting a better understanding of how much support our services provide.”
Almost 50 volunteer staff members perform 2,000 hours of service a year at NHH, doing in-home visits, office work, fundraising events and other types of support such as handyman tasks and gardening.
“Hospice care is so much more than symptom management,” said Bobbi Bryant, North Hawaii Hospice’s volunteer coordinator. “It is truly whole-person care. Our trained volunteers play a vital role in helping meet the non-medical needs that come along with serious illness. Our volunteers also support the family as well as the patient. Volunteers run errands, relieve family members so they can rest and assist the family to record memories. They will do almost anything that helps preserve or enhance quality of life.”