by Kristina Crawley

Some people have a spirit that can't be beaten, no matter what life throws at them. And that certainly describes one elderly woman who, some years back, came under the care of Diane Hermanson, director of social services for Hospice of Spokane. Hermanson was working as a social worker at the time and says that although this widow in her late seventies was suffering from heart problems, she was chock-full of spit and vinegar that kept her going to the very end.

"She had stacks of books piled around her so she could reach them," says Hermanson of the woman who loved to read. "She was kind of crusty, but when she warmed up to you... she was a person who attached to people."

But eventually, she was unable to live on her own. After suffering a fall, she had to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility.

And while Hermanson believes nursing facilities provide a much-needed service to the community, she knows that this patient would have rather spent the end of her life at home, surrounded by the people -- and books -- she loved.

It's a story that the people of Hospice of Spokane believe is all too common: People spending their last days in hospital beds, sometimes dying alone because of the restrictions of visiting hours, instead of at home with loved ones.

"[Society has] kind of lost touch with what quality end-of-life care would be," says Anne Koepsell, executive director for Hospice of Spokane.

One of the ways the organization is seeking to remedy this problem is by building a Hospice House in Spokane Valley. Although Hospice, a nonprofit organization, has been providing end-of-life care in the home to terminally ill patients in Spokane since 1977, this facility would be able to house 20 patients at a time in private rooms with all the amenities of home.

The rooms will each have their own bathroom, a pull-out couch to allow for overnight visitors and an outdoor patio so patients can enjoy fresh air. The house will be split into two wings, with 10 rooms in each. Each wing will also have a family room, dining room and kitchen, among other comforts for family and visitors. The 10-acre site will also feature several walking paths for patients and their families to use.

The house will be staffed by nurses, a chaplain and a social worker to help with the residents' medical, spiritual and emotional needs. A stay at Hospice House is covered completely by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans.

But, "we provide services irrespective of people's ability to pay," says Koepsell.

The house will be the fourth of its kind in the state; two more are underway in Vancouver and Tacoma. There are approximately 300 Hospice Houses throughout the nation. So far, Hospice of Spokane has raised 40 percent of the $5.4 million it needs for the project. Plans are to start construction in spring of 2005 and to admit the first client by January 2006.

Koepsell says local fundraising support has been strong since many people in the area have been touched by Hospice, or realize that they may need its services one day.

"It's clearly a need, and everyone has recognized that need," she says.

To get involved, call 456-0438. For information on Hospice House, e-mail

Publication date: 08/05/04

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