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A passion for hospice

As a former Hospice of Michigan CEO, Carolyn Cassin is a passionate advocate for hospice care. She continues to support the mission of nonprofit hospice through a legacy gift of $1 million to the Hospice of Michigan Foundation.

As a former Hospice of Michigan CEO, Carolyn Cassin is a passionate advocate for hospice care. She continues to support the mission of nonprofit hospice through a legacy gift of $1 million to the Hospice of Michigan Foundation.

When Carolyn Cassin lost her baby son, she went back to work the following Monday, devastated.

The year was 1976 and people didn’t talk openly about grief and loss. She remembers the platitudes: “you’re young, you’ll have other children,” and the silence. Cassin realized that nothing much had changed in the 10 years since the death of her father. She swallowed that loss, too, returning to high school a few days after the funeral.

“I never grieved for my father or my baby,” recalled Cassin, who now serves as president and CEO of the Michigan Women’s Foundation. “I remember thinking: If death is a natural part of life, why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we grieve? “I was confounded by this. I didn’t know what to do.”

So Cassin channeled her energy and sadness into education. A fellowship program through the Kellogg Foundation enabled her to study the concept of hospice, which was still taking root in America.

“I became unbelievably taken by this,” she remembered. “As I was sitting down and reading, the tears started to come.”

I thought, “Oh, this is what death should be like. You should be surrounded by friends and family. You should be able to talk about, prepare for it, say your goodbyes. “It touched something very deep in me and I knew this was what I needed to do.”

And so was born a passionate advocate for hospice. Cassin connected with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in the early 1980s, helping to bring standards of care to hospice providers throughout the country. She was tapped to join the National Hospice Education Project, which worked to create the Medicare hospice benefit in 1982. As the CEO of Hospice of Southeastern Michigan, hers was one of the first hospice programs in the country to be certified under those new guidelines.

But the career achievement she’s most proud of? Uniting 10 nonprofit hospice providers around the state under the umbrella of Hospice of Michigan, where she served as CEO for more than a decade.

“Sometimes it takes being at the right place at the right time,” Cassin said. “My sense was that hospice had two paths we could go down. We could each stay in our own community organization and fend for ourselves or we could start to band together as not-for-profit hospice providers and create the size, girth and expertise of a sophisticated organization that could compete with the for-profits.

That process continues today as Hospice of Michigan joined forces in January with Arbor Hospice. The affiliation of two like-minded, mission-driven, nonprofit organizations allows them to better serve patients and families while helping to strengthen and expand the future of nonprofit hospice in Michigan.

Cassin continues to support the mission of nonprofit hospice through a legacy gift of $1 million to the Hospice of Michigan Foundation in support of its Open Access program, which will bear her name. Open Access ensures that all patients, without regard to age, diagnosis or ability to pay, can receive compassionate care at the end of life.

Legacy gifts like Cassin’s are critical to supporting the mission of nonprofit organizations like Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice. Residents of Washtenaw County and beyond have a long history of supporting Arbor Hospice’s work through generous contributions to The Arbor Hospice Foundation.

That generosity is underscored by a recent legacy gift of $500,000, pledged anonymously by a donor who appreciates Arbor’s dedication to patients’ dignity, comfort and peace and the nonprofit model that enables Arbor to put patients’ needs first. While patients of both Hospice of Michigan and Arbor benefit from enhancements made possible through the affiliation, donors may continue directing their gifts to a specific organization.

“Uniting 10 organizations under the banner of nonprofit hospice was quite the feat to pull off,” said Marcie Hillary, who serves as vice president for Hospice of Michigan. “It is Carolyn that we have to thank for our platform that strengthens and supports nonprofit hospice. Her level of innovation and forethought set the stage for Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice to be recognized as leaders in end-of-life care.”

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Hospice of Michigan to host Rejoice and Remember Memorial Service

ENT-HospiceOfMichiganHospice of Michigan will host a Rejoice and Remember memorial service to recognize lost loved ones on Tuesday, April 12.

During the service, participants will be invited to reflect on the many ways those who have died have touched their lives. The event will include special music, inspirational messages and a reading of names. Participants are invited to bring an item of remembrance to display and refreshments will be served.

The gathering will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, 1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE. This program is free and open to the community. Advance registration is requested.

The gardens, including the butterfly exhibit, will be available to tour free of charge from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information or to register, please call 616.356.5258.

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Robert Lee Hyrns: April 19, 1953 – March 17, 2016

Robert Lee Hyrns, age 62, of Newaygo, passed away March 17th at his residence. He was born April 19, 1953 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Alva and Donna (Spring) Hyrns. During his working years, he worked as a self-employed logger for 23 years and a heavy equipment driver for 10 years out west. Surviving are his parents Alva and Donna Hyrns; sister Sandy (Norm) Seppi; brother Rex (Mary) Hyrns; daughter Becky (Chad) Moore; two grandchildren, Kelly and Ryan; one great-grandchild, Dixie; several nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his girl friend, Dawn Billings. As to Robert’s wishes, cremation has taken place and a light luncheon will be served at Ensley Center Township Hall on Saturday April 2nd from 1 to 3 p.m. In leu of flowers, please make a donation to Hospice in Bob Hyrns name.

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The H Word: When is it time to call hospice?

When is it time to call hospice? While the H word scares people, Hospice of Michigan says that making the call early can enhance quality of life at the end of life.

When is it time to call hospice? While the H word scares people, Hospice of Michigan says that making the call early can enhance quality of life at the end of life.

Jane is suffering from cancer. It started in her liver and has now spread to her lungs and embedded in her bones. The chemo and radiation are not helping. But her doctor is yet to bring up hospice, the H word so many don’t want to hear.

Americans are a death-denying culture,” explains Dr. Michael Paletta, chief medical officer at Hospice of Michigan and hospice physician for 20 years. “Sometimes we don’t want to accept our own mortality. Often, patients wait until a doctor mentions end-of-life before they will even begin to wrap their minds around it. But, if patients don’t ask, doctors may continue to search out treatment options, even if a cure is unlikely.”

Paletta explains that doctors don’t always offer hospice as an option because they don’t want to deny patients a ray of hope. “Doctors take the decline and death of patients very personally,” Paletta said. They don’t want to be responsible for denying a patient the opportunity to recover, and they want to know they have done everything possible to cure their patients of illness.”

In modern medicine, it’s unusual for a doctor to feel there is nothing else to offer. There is always one more experimental drug or treatment to try; the question is what benefit will the treatment offer the patient and at what cost.

While a doctor may not want to deny hope, Paletta says it can be just as harmful to foster a patient’s unrealistic vision of recovery.

Hope comes in many shapes and forms,” Paletta said. “Instead of hoping for a cure that doesn’t exist, patients can hope to manage their pain and symptoms and improve their quality of life. This isn’t giving up hope; this is hoping for something that can actually happen and devoting energy to something that has proven to be valuable.”

Continue to pray for a miracle, but put things in place that will help you and your family. Perhaps the miracle provided is a controlled, dignified and peaceful ending of a celebrated life.

But when is the right time to consider hospice for you or your loved one?

If treatments are not going well, and if the treatment path the doctor initially laid out doesn’t seem to be working, it might be the right time to ask your doctor what’s next and when you should consider hospice,” Paletta explained. “If your doctor says it’s too soon to discuss hospice, try to get a better understanding of what the road ahead looks like in terms of treatment options. Ask when it will be appropriate to consider hospice and request specifics. This will help you gain a better understanding of the path you’re on and if you and your doctor have the same goals.”

If you aren’t satisfied with the plan your doctor has in place, seek a second option. I’m always surprised to hear that people don’t consult with another doctor. They seem to think this will offend the physician, but it’s usually welcomed. Good doctors realize that most of the time their recommendations are reinforced and a second option can actually enhance the faith and trust their patients have in them.”

Paletta notes that considering hospice isn’t a decision, it’s understanding your options. “Hospice is a choice that patients and families can make, but no one should ever be forced to make that decision,” Paletta said. “If you decide you’re not ready for hospice and you want to continue to seek out treatments, you can wait. And then it’s an informed waiting that has a specific end point rather than delaying or avoiding the decision.”

Paletta suggests that those suffering from a severe or terminal illness should contact hospice sooner rather than later, even if they aren’t necessarily ready to begin hospice care.

It’s always better for patients to reach out to a hospice organization early, rather than in a time of crisis. This gives them the time and ability to gather information about the services offered, choose the hospice organization that suits them best and make an informed decision. Hospice can even help with things like advanced directives and selecting a patient advocate.”

And perhaps most importantly, by looking into hospice options early in your illness, you’ve put yourself in a position where you can make the decision that’s right for you and take that pressure off your family.

For more information on Hospice of Michigan and the services it provides, contact 888.247.5701 or visit www.hom.org.

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Thank You

The family of Marjorie Bailey would like to thank our community for the cards, flowers and acts of kindness shown to us during our difficult time. Hospice for their tender and dedicated attention to Mom. Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home for helping us navigate final plans and the First Baptist Church for the wonderful luncheon. We appreciate all of you.

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Shattering the myths of hospice


Thanks to arrangements made by Melody Walker, Hospice of Michigan caregiver, Matt Magee had the experience of a lifetime when the rock-and-roll fan was able to meet members of his favorite band, Alice in Chains.

Thanks to arrangements made by Melody Walker, Hospice of Michigan caregiver, Matt Magee had the experience of a lifetime when the rock-and-roll fan was able to meet members of his favorite band, Alice in Chains.

Matt Magee recently had the experience of a lifetime.

A diehard rock-and-roll fan, the 56-year-old was able to attend a concert featuring his favorite band, Alice in Chains, in Mt. Pleasant. As a bonus, he was able to meet band members outside their tour bus for autographs, photos and conversations after the show.

Magee made the hour-long trip from his home, an adult foster care center in Big Rapids, while suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis, thanks to connections made by his caregiver, Hospice of Michigan.

“When most people think about hospice, they expect it means being confined to a bed, barely clinging to life,” said Robert Cahill, president and CEO of HOM. “Because of this misconception, many only consider hospice in the final days of life, but hospice care is most suited to support patients during the final months of life.”

November, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, is a time when hospices and palliative care providers across the nation help raise awareness about this special kind of care. It is also a good time to help deepen the understanding of hospice and explain the many myths.

Cahill notes the following common misconceptions of hospice care and offers a deeper understanding:

Myth: All hospice organizations are connected.

More than 100 hospices provide end-of-life care in Michigan. Some are run by national chains and some, such as HOM, are community-based and grow from a mission to provide compassionate care. Some programs are affiliated directly with a hospital or nursing home, while others are free standing. Patients and their families have the right to choose the hospice organization they feel will provide the best care.

Myth: All hospice organizations are the same.

Hospice programs can differ widely in the services they provide, their philosophy of care, etc.  One of the most important distinctions is those that are for-profit and those that are non-profits. As a non-profit organization, HOM has a mission of providing service to anyone who needs or seeks its care, regardless of their age, diagnosis or ability to pay. HOM will never turn a patient away, no matter how medically complex or how medically fragile the condition. For patients without Medicare or insurance, HOM provides free care, raising more than $4 million every year to cover the cost of services for those unable to pay.

Myth: To be eligible for hospice, I have to be in the final stages of dying.

In general, hospice programs are open to people in the last six months of life, as certified by a physician. However, there is no fixed limit on the amount of time a patient may continue to receive services.

Myth: Hospice is expensive.

Hospice care is available as a benefit for those who receive Medicare. It covers all medicines, medical supplies and equipment that are related to the illness or condition and provides such support as home health aides, physicians and nurses, chaplains, counseling, practical and financial assistance, grief assistance and volunteers to help with day-to-day chores, errands and companionship. For those ineligible for Medicare, most insurance plans, HMOs, and managed care plans cover hospice care. As a non-profit hospice provider, HOM does not charge for its services.

Myth: Hospice care means leaving home.

Hospice is not necessarily a place; it’s a form of palliative care that seeks to comfort rather than cure. HOM provides services wherever the patient is living or receiving care. It may be in an apartment, condo or home or a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility. HOM travels to wherever the patient considers home, allowing them to continue to receive support from their family and friends while under hospice care.

Myth: Hospice means forgoing all medical treatment.

Palliative care becomes appropriate when treatments are no longer effective and the burden of the disease becomes too much to bear for the patient and family. While hospice does focus on comfort rather than cure, hospice nurses and physicians are experts in the latest medications and devices for pain and symptom relief.

Myth: Hospice care ends when someone dies.

Hospice is not only about helping patients die a good death, but it is also committed to helping their loved ones learn to live with grief. HOM offers a variety of free grief support groups throughout Michigan that are open to all in need.

“Whether you are facing a terminal illness or you are supporting a loved one in their end-of-life transition, Hospice of Michigan is there to make life better,”” Cahill adds. “We’re fond of saying that we help ensure quality of life at the end of life. We will continue in our compassion mission, knowing that we’re helping patients and their caregivers when it it’s needed most.””

For more information on hospice care or to determine eligibility, contact Hospice of Michigan at 888.247.5701 or visit www.hom.org.


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No one dies alone


Hospice of Michigan volunteers sit vigil during patient’s final moments

After caring for her sick mother for months, doctors tell Stacey that her mother’s death is approaching.  Stacey’s focus has shifted from finding a cure for her mother to making sure she’s comfortable and that she doesn’t die alone. Stacey finds herself overwhelmed. Her grieving process has already begun and while she spends countless hours at her mother’s bedside, she fears she might not be there during the final moments.

“When it’s apparent that a patient has reached the end of life, it becomes very important to family and friends that the patient has support through the dying process,” says Kathy Julien, volunteer services manager at Hospice of Michigan. “It is our goal that a patient never dies alone. To achieve this, we have an incredibly compassionate and dedicated team of volunteers who go anywhere a patient is and ‘sit vigil’ during the final days and hours.”

HOM typically sends vigil volunteers for a two- to four-hour time frame. Volunteers play music, read inspirational readings or scripture, light candles, hold the patient’s hand, pray with the patient or just talk about the day. Julien says that in addition to sitting vigil with the dying when their family can’t be there, volunteers often sit alongside loved ones to offer comfort, reassurance and a shoulder to cry on.

“This isn’t a new concept,” Julien explains. “People have been sitting vigil with the dying for centuries. Traditionally, family, friends and clergymen would gather around the dying person to offer comfort and support to the patient and to each other.”

Julien explains that when people begin actively dying, their sense of sound is the last sense to go. While they may be unresponsive or appear unconscious, it’s very possible the patient can still hear what’s happening around them. In addition to creating a peaceful and comforting surrounding, sitting vigil is also the time to reassure patients that they are not alone, it’s okay to go and that their family will learn to cope with their passing.

“Hospice of Michigan vigil volunteers are very special and important people,” Julien says. “Most volunteers feel it’s a privilege to be with someone during the final moments in life. There is a love they have for their patients and this shows in the way they care for them and interact with their families.”

All prospective HOM volunteers go through a 12-hour training course where they learn more about HOM, the principles of hospice, the grieving process and how to help patients, families and staff. There’s an optional three-hour grief support session that, while not required, is recommended.  Julien explains that vigil volunteers also receive direction on:

Recognizing the signs that a patient is actively dying

Talking with the patient to provide comfort

When and when not to comfort patients through the physical touch of hand holding, rubbing their arms, etc.

Comforting family and friends and sharing details and stories from time spent with the patient

“When someone accepts that their loved one will die, their fear of the loved one dying is often replaced by a fear that they will die alone,” adds Julien. “It’s our job to help ease these fears and provide comfort, support and reassurance to patients and their families.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities for Hospice of Michigan or sign up as a volunteer, contact Kathy Julien at 888.247.5701 or kjulien@hom.org.  For those who have experienced a loss, HOM encourages a waiting period of one year before becoming a volunteer in order to allow for processing grief.


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Give back by volunteering for hospice care

Free training program here in January and February

By Judy Reed


N-HospiceWould you like to make a big difference in someone’s life? Would you like to serve those in your own community? You can—and it doesn’t have to be more than one or two hours a week. But those two hours could mean a great deal to both families and individuals facing an end of life.

Spectrum Health Hospice will offer a five-week volunteer training session at Cedar Springs United Methodist Church beginning January 22. There will be five sessions, of three hours each—January 22, 29, February 5, 12 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Yvonne Elliot, Volunteer Coordinator for Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care, said they are continuing to see a rapid growth in support needed for patients and families on the north end of Kent County and beyond into Montcalm County. “As we provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to these patients through our paid staff, we see a great need for additional volunteers to ensure that all our patients are offered the same level of support regardless of their location,” she explained. “Therefore we are taking our volunteer training on the road to the Cedar Springs area to encourage volunteers to join our program that are interested and willing to support patients and families in that geographic area.”

Volunteers play a vital role in supporting the patient by providing relief for the caregiver, friendly visits for the patient, music (both vocalists and instrumentalists needed), life story review, visiting dogs, haircuts, massage therapy and much more.

Local volunteer Betty Patterson, 80, of Sparta, gets great enjoyment from giving back to the people and families she visits. “I get more back than I give,” remarked Betty. “They are nice people who welcome you into their homes and lives. They are people in a hard place.”

Betty has been working with Spectrum Hospice for six years. During that time, she’s done a variety of things with the patients and families, depending on what they need. “I baked cupcakes with a lady who could barely hold a spoon,” she recalled. “I put the bowl in her lap and helped her stir.” Betty explained that she put chocolate frosting on the woman’s fingers when it was time to frost the cupcakes. “It was a chocolate mess all over,” she said with a laugh. “We were both covered in chocolate trying to frost those cupcakes. We had fun.”

There was a man that Betty visited who never spoke a word to her, but the family told her that he enjoyed gospel hymns. So she brought a hymnal and sang him songs out of it for an hour each time. She told him that if he ever wanted her to stop, all he had to do was blink his eyes, but he never did.

Another patient of Betty’s was a war bride from Germany. “The woman had a lot of pictures, so we took a trip down the Rhine,” said Betty. “I learned a lot.”

Betty read Winnie the Pooh to one patient. With another, she just held her hand. “In the training you learn how to just be present with somebody,” she explained.

Betty said that sometimes she just relieves a caregiver that needs to sleep, or needs to go out and do some shopping. They have often exhausted family. Other times a patient has no family.

Betty is also an 11th hour volunteer—one who will visit people who are right at the end of life’s journey. And she’s happy to do it. “I’m a good Episcopalian,” she explained. “It’s part of being a Christian—you give back.” She urged anyone thinking about volunteering to give it a shot. “It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” she said.

Yvonne spoke highly of Betty and the other volunteers they have. “We are always amazed at the wonderful community that we live in. It is humbling to see the amount of truly caring people who desire to use their time and talents to support our patients and their families. It is awesome to know that there are people interested in making a difference for people facing end of life. It is a very appreciated and rewarding volunteer opportunity.”

Spectrum Hospice supports patients in a wide geographic area (one hour distance from downtown Grand Rapids). Volunteers select the geographic area that they would like to serve. Additional volunteers are especially needed for the Northern Kent and Montcalm county area.

After completing training, most volunteers donate approximately one hour of their time per week. There are others who choose to donate more as their schedule allows.

If the winter training session will not work with your schedule, contact Yvonne to be placed on a notification list for future volunteer trainings. For more information or application materials please contact Yvonne Elliott at 616-391-4240 or via email Yvonne.elliott@spectrumhealth.org.


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Ray Winnie
Intandem Credit Union


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