Hospice hailed as saving grace for terminal patients

By Cynthia Flash
Special to the Reporter

Hospice care in Seattle is hailed today as a blessing for those facing terminal illness and their families. Such care has helped ease the pain of and provided companionship for patients and respite for family members.

For Island resident Michael R. Green, the hospice group that he helped launch some three decades earlier helped him keep a promise to his wife after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

“My promise was that she would spend her last days here in her home,” said Green, 75, who was the attorney who helped establish Providence Hospice of Seattle as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal entity.

Providence Hospice sent a nurse, a social worker and a home health aide to help with Green’s wife, Neva.

“One of those people would be in my house every day,” Green said. It enabled Neva Green to remain at home until she took her last breath.

Specialized care for the dying did not exist in the Seattle area before Providence Hospice of Seattle was founded in 1975. Those who formed Seattle’s first hospice program recognized this critical need and went to work to fill it.

In 1975, the Rev. John Huston, a priest at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, convened a meeting at his church of people who wanted hospice care available in Seattle. The group included doctors, nurses and ministers with firsthand experience with death.

“It seemed like an essential thing to do,” said Paul Nibbelink, one of the founders of the group that became Providence Hospice of Seattle. “It honored the passing, the death of people,” Nibbelink said. “It created a process that made loving sense.”

On May 14, Providence Hospice of Seattle honored Nibbelink and other founding hospice board members at an award reception. The founders received the 2009 Hospice Service Award.

“We are so grateful to have so many founders of Providence Hospice of Seattle with us to receive this award,” said Gary Crum, director of the Providence Hospice of Seattle Foundation. “Without their foresight, perseverance and tremendous efforts, Providence Hospice of Seattle wouldn’t be what it is today — an organization that each day treats hundreds of patients facing the end of life, helping them and their families through this process in the most natural, spiritual and pain-free way possible.”

Nibbelink, 81, now lives in Issaquah. In the mid-1970s, he worked as a corporate consultant, when he participated in those initial hospice meetings. As the son of a physician, Nibbelink learned a lot about compassionate care from his father. Nibbelink said he was thrilled that a program he helped form has grown to provide a range of services for children, adults and families facing the challenge of serious and life-limiting illness.

Also honored at Providence Hospital was Skagit Flats resident Patsy Carter, the organization’s first president when it incorporated on Dec. 1, 1975. As a social worker from Harborview Medical Center, Carter saw death firsthand and knew there was a critical need for hospice care.

While Seattle’s doctors and nurses agreed that not all patients could be cured, they did not have a program to help care for these patients as they were dying, said Carter, 71. One particular patient spurred Carter to get involved — a man from northern Alaska who had attempted suicide by shooting himself. He did not die from his gunshot wound, but sustained life-limiting injuries and was flown to Harborview for treatment.

“He wanted to go back home and die by the river,” Carter said. But there was no system in place to fly him home for that purpose. Eventually, Western Airlines stepped forward and provided him with a first-class ticket home.

The roots of hospice took hold in Father Richard Garlichs, 86, after he returned from training in Manhattan to be a hospital chaplain.

Hospice provided people with a sense of peace because it created a plan to help ease the suffering of those who were within six months of death, explained Garlichs, a retired Episcopal priest who ensured that the terminally ill would get proper social worker attention and medication to ease their pain.

“I thought that was very important,” said Garlichs, who has passed down his hospice pedigree to his daughter, now a hospice chaplain in Thurston and Lewis counties.

Jacqueline S. Durgin, a retired licensed clinical social worker now living in Madison Park, became aware of the need for hospice services while working in Harborview’s Intensive Care Unit. The unit saw numerous patients who had been hospitalized in the final stages of terminal illness, who were transferred there in the last few days of life. Having heard of the hospice movement in the United Kingdom, “It seemed to me that we should be offering similar services in Seattle,” said Durgin, 72.

Other founding board members honored include: Penny MacElveen-Hoen, of Laurelhurst; Dr. John E.Z. Caner, of the Broadmoor area of Seattle, and Ruth McCorkle, of North Haven, Conn.

“All of us were dissatisfied with the care of the dying that was taking place in Seattle [in the early 1970s],” said MacElveen-Hoen, 78, who joined the group as a registered nurse and later earned her ARNP and PhD. “We knew that there were better ways to do it.”

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