Walla Walla Community Hospice workers were out in the rain Saturday morning, Aug. 21, doing what they do — helping people grieve and mourn.
Of course the organization does more than that, but the outreach event where families could pick up rock-painting kits was a small way to remind people who are suffering from the death of a loved one that they are seen and heard.
Saturday’s drive-thru event marked the second year in a row that usual summer events slowed to a crawl for the organization, but leaders there say they are learning to be adaptive, even as hospice care has grown drastically in the past year.
Brad McMasters, community outreach coordinator for Community Hospice, said it’s been difficult since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was first proclaimed, but they’re finding ways to adapt.
He said they’ve adjusted well to working remotely, and they had one glorious week where they were able to be in the office together, but then they separated again as the delta variant of COVID-19 began to spread.
Remote technology has helped them greatly, though, he said.
“Being virtual has allowed us to bring in more talent,” McMasters said. They have two doctors based in Portland, Oregon, who are able to do remote visits with clients.
The most difficult part, McMasters said, is seeing a spike in requests for hospice care. They’re happy to answer the call, but sometimes it’s coming too late, he said.
“Our census ... it’s the highest it’s ever been,” McMasters said.
He said it’s heartbreaking to see that some people are choosing to wait for the care. He said they’re seeing a lot of people with just days left to live, even hours, who are requesting hospice care.
“We’re seeing a lot of late referrals,” McMasters said. “Our services are so much better if we can get an early referral.”
McMasters said some of the reason for the increased numbers is that many people are choosing to stay in their homes as opposed to going to a hospital for their final days. Some of that is likely pandemic-related, plus overcrowded hospitals and what’s referred to as “deferred care.”
In a recent meeting of Washington State Hospital Association, hospital leaders said “deferred care” for “elective procedures” is becoming a trend again, as it was last year.
And the things being deferred are not skin tag removals or face lifts, the leaders said. People and hospitals are delaying cancer screenings, heart surgeries and other vital procedures to later dates.
According to the association, as of Aug. 19, there were more people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state than ever before. Those numbers and a decline in hospital workers has driven up demand in many areas, including hospice care.
With the surging cases, McMasters was unsure of what the future holds in the next few months, but he said they would continue their work in the best way possible.
Camp Amanda, an annual summer camp for children who have lost loved ones, is tentatively scheduled for October this year. It was canceled in 2020 and replaced with a mobile event.
Also canceled in 2020, and now this year, is the annual home garden tour to benefit Community Hospice. McMasters said it was the difficult but correct decision to nix that event again this year.
Community Hospice is doing other outreaches, however, such as a community book club via Zoom, which have included a few visits from the authors of the books.
McMasters said it’s all in the name of spreading hope during a tough year and a difficult situation.
“It’s not all bad,” McMasters said. “Our team has just been doing a really great job.”