After starting in Nebraska, Hillcrest Hospice now has a location in Council Bluffs and is ready to serve the residents of Pottawattamie, Mills and Harrison Counties.
Hillcrest Hospice is an expansion of Hillcrest Health Systems, which was founded by Jolene Roberts in 1989.
Services included with Hillcrest Health System are five nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health, hospice, private duty and innovative therapy.
“We have an entire complex of providers that are able to provide comprehensive care across the spectrum,” said Hillcrest Hospice Care Administrator Mike Rehfeldt.
At the beginning of May, Hillcrest had seven patients on service, but there is no limit on how many patients they can care for.
“We care for patients wherever they call home,” said nurse Danielle Jensen, director of operations at Hillcrest Hospice. “Whether that be their home, long-term care, independent living, assisted living, we go to where they are.”
Hillcrest Hospice is one of nine licensed hospices in Iowa.
To qualify for hospice, the patient has to have a terminal diagnosis. If the physician says that if the disease continues to progress in the same manner that it has progressed the last six months, then they more than likely won’t be living six months down the road.
“We’ve had patients stay on longer than six months,” Jensen said. “Nobody is God and we don’t know when patients are going to die.”
Hillcrest Hospice has four levels of care — routine home care, continuous care, respite and general inpatient care.
Routine care is where a nurse comes in a few times a week, assesses the patient and does symptom management.
Continuous care is where a patient is symptomatic and has a symptom that is out of control and we put a nurse at the bedside for 24 hour a day until that symptom is under control.
Respite is for caregivers who are giving care at home. Hospice will pay for a patient to go into a long-term care setting for up to five days to give the caregiver a break to prevent caregiver burnout.
General inpatient care is where the patient in a hospital or long-term care setting has a symptom that needs continuous management so a nurse is present 24 hours a day.
“We are the only hospice that does continuous care,” Rehfeldt said.
Hillcrest offers multiple therapy services including pet visits, music therapy, virtual reality and aromatherapy.
“We had a woman in our care who was nonverbal and largely contracted and our music therapist would come in and slide maracas in her hands and the therapist would start singing and playing ‘How Great Thou Art’ and the woman would sing and shake those maracas,” Rehfeldt said. “It was the only time her daughter heard her voice.”
The music therapist is also able to build a playlist for someone who wants to leave a legacy for their family and record someone’s heartbeat to music and give it to the family after they pass.
With virtual reality, patients are able to visit places they are no longer able to.
“We had a patient who wanted to go to her home in Germany, and she wanted to go home before she passed but it wasn’t possible,” Jensen said. “We were able to take her with virtual reality and google maps to the street where she lived and she could see her house and the church she was married in.”
Hillcrest Hospice plans to further expand in Iowa, but not before they make sure they have enough staff. Jensen said Hillcrest Hospice has continuous care teams so nurses aren’t getting burnt out and expected to do all these extra tasks. There are weekend nurses, night shift staff and on call staff at night so no one is getting over worked.
“Our day shift only works the day shift so they aren’t getting burnt out and exhausted and that really elevates our speed to care and excellent service that we give to patients.” Jensen said.
This allows Hillcrest Hospice to keep its standard of speed to care. Hillcrest admits patients 24 hours a day — within three hours of doctor’s orders and family consent.
“We all recognize at Hillcrest that the hospice team is so unique because they are willing to do what is some of the toughest work,” said Jim Janicki, vice president of marketing and customer navigation at Hillcrest Health Services. “To be the people at the end of life. It takes a very special person.”
Hillcrest Hospice said it makes sure no one dies alone. During the last week of the patient’s life, a registered nurse will stay with the patient for up to four hours a day.
Someone will always be present during the last 24 to 48 hours of a patient’s life and a specially trained volunteer stays at the patient’s bedside during that time.
To support the family, grief workshops are available as well as grief support for up to 13 months to help families through that first full year after the patients death.
“Hospice doesn’t mean you have (just) days left and it can add so much quality to their life,” Jensen “We do such fun things with our patients and just give them so much extra love and attention.
“We don’t want people to be afraid of the word ‘hospice’ and the stigma around it because it doesn’t mean the patient is going to die tomorrow. We don’t change that timeline.”
For more information on Hillcrest Hospice visit bit.ly/3hOiza3 or call 402-934-2282.