By Bob Highfill
Community Hospice began as an all-volunteer organization in a church basement in Modesto. Mary Jean Coeur-Barron, a nurse whose husband, an oncologist, wanted to alleviate the pain of children suffering from leukemia, worked with local hospitals, home health agencies and others in creating a local hospice program.
Thanks to Coeur-Barron’s foresight and hundreds of dedicated employees, volunteers and community support, Community Hospice is going strong and is the oldest and largest nonprofit hospice provider in the Central Valley. Community Hospice has and continues to serve all people from the Central Valley, at all income levels, including the homeless, regardless of their ability to pay. This year, Community Hospice celebrates 40 years of conducting an ever-growing array of services, including end-of-life hospice care, palliative care, pediatric care programs, grief support services, children’s school-based grief support, Camp Erin® of the Central Valley and community crisis response. The organization also has the Alexander Cohen Hospice House, a private, 16-bed inpatient hospice facility, a robust education program, durable medical equipment division, seven Hope Chest Thrift Stores and a logistics processing center.
Community Hospice cares for more than 3,000 residents in multiple counties each year. “We are no longer just a hospice agency,” Community Hospice President and Chief Executive Officer DeSha McLeod said. “We focus on quality of life. Studies and research have shown that patients live longer on hospice than they do without.” Hospice is end-of-life care for someone with a terminal illness who is not receiving curative measures. Palliative care is for patients facing a serious illness who are receiving curative treatments, such as chemotherapy and the hospice also provides pediatric care for children, hospice or palliative. Christine Stewart, Pediatric Care Manager and a registered nurse is in charge of the clinical team providing out-patient care, the triage team that operates after hours, the float team that goes wherever needed and pediatrics, hospice and palliative.
“For my triage team,” said Stewart, “we service all of the clients, palliative and hospice, whenever they call. That’s over 300 patients.”
Like many in the organization, Stewart is deeply committed and passionate about her work. Stewart was in her first semester of nursing school when she was called to help those dying. She volunteered with the hospice for three years while an oncology nurse and now is in her 26th year as a hospice employee. “Community Hospice is near and dear to my heart. I feel it’s a privilege to care for the dying. After working with children so long and working on the pediatric program, I feel extremely honored to work with children and their parents. Janice Lucero volunteers for numerous nonprofits. Her specialty is fund-raising and event planning. “I’m not afraid to ask anybody for money or donations” she said. Lucero’s favorite cause is the Community Hospice. “It’s the nonprofit that is nearest to my heart and is my passion.” Lucero was unaware of the hospice until her mother needed its services some 27 years ago. “They sent a nurse, a social worker and then later, a chaplain,” she said. “They just gave excellent care. “I’m an only child and both my father and I were working,” Lucero said. “I don’t know what we would have done without their services. They were invaluable.” Lucero’s mother was under hospice care for six months prior to her death in the summer of 1991. The following year, Lucero joined the Friends of Community Hospice and has been a stalwart for the organization ever since. Lucero helped raise money for the Cohen Hospice House, which opened in 2005 in Hughson, and has served on the foundation board and with the Friends of Hospice. Lucero is working on this year’s fund-raising and social calendar, including the 40th anniversary gala on May 18 in Modesto. Community Hospice has touched so many people’s lives whether it’s family or a friend,” Lucero said. “Just to have someone there who can tell you what’s going to happen and walk with you. They make the patient feel comfortable and the family feels somebody’s caring for them.” Community Hospice has expanded its reach over the years to meet the needs of the community. For instance, Camp Erin® of the Central Valley began in 2014 in partnership with The Eluna Network to allow children ages 6 to 17 an opportunity to grieve the loss of a family member, caregiver or loved one.
The hospice provides professional education, medical equipment, free consultation among a myriad of opportunities. Community Hospice’s services are available to anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation or ability to pay. McLeod said the organization attempts to reach the entire community, including Hispanic and other non-English speaking populations. McLeod said efforts to provide more materials, including consent forms, and other information on the hospice’s web site in Spanish are ongoing. “We have put emphasis on recruiting board members from the Hispanic community and especially those who can assist us and bring new ideas,” said McLeod, “and work with us to further our influence in the Spanish speaking community.” The hospice also is eager to employ bi-lingual employees. Community Hospice strives to continue meeting the growing needs of the region’s diverse population. Community Hospice is headquartered at the Haig and Isabel Berberian Patient Services Center in north Modesto and has a branch office in Stockton, along with the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson. “Forty years represents stability to me,” Stewart said. “To me, we are a deep-rooted tree in this community. People know they can come to us. They know they can count on us. We’re a five-star agency and I want to keep it that way.” For Information: hospiceheart.org, (209) 578-6300.