PORT ANGELES — Soon after she moved here, Sue Hynes crossed paths with the woman in whose footsteps she would follow — into a job full of rewards and uncertainty.
Twenty years ago, Hynes met Rose Crumb, the founder and director of an organization that helps hundreds of Clallam County families each year while charging nothing for its services.
“I was overwhelmed by Rose,” Hynes remembered.
She was also mightily impressed by Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, the nonprofit Crumb and a small team established in 1978.
Hynes went to work as a nurse for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and stayed 16 years.
Then, in 2005, her mother developed terminal cancer, and Hynes turned to Volunteer Hospice for help.
She wanted her mom, Joanne Schalk, to stay at home, not in a hospital. The hospice helped make that happen.
The agency’s nurses and volunteers provided hospice care — comfort and attentiveness to matters both practical and emotional — that gave Hynes precious time with her mother during her last days.
“[Volunteer Hospice] allowed me to be the daughter and not the nurse,” she said.
Last year, Crumb retired as director of Volunteer Hospice, and Hynes was chosen as her successor.
“I feel so blessed to be in this position,” Hynes said in a recent interview at the Volunteer Hospice office at 540 E. Eighth St.
But the post brings with it a worrisome set of circumstances.
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Pam Gates, a member of Volunteer Hospice’s board of directors.
Clallam County’s population is growing older and needing more hospice services, more people lack health insurance, and the economy is still in the dumps, so Volunteer Hospice’s reserve fund isn’t earning the income it once did. Donations are affected, too.
For the first time, the agency has had to withdraw operating funds from its reserve account, said Bruce Busch, another board member.
“Until this year, we always took in more money than we paid out,” he said.
The only paid people at Volunteer Hospice are Hynes and the seven nurses, who are on call 24 hours a day to respond to clients’ families’ needs.
Their salaries total $315,000; with operating expenses, the agency’s annual budget is $470,000.
Volunteer Hospice is anticipating revenue, from bequests and other local donations, of just $190,000 in 2011.
So the agency is looking at an estimated deficit of some $280,000 next year, Busch said.
There are no plans, however, to start charging for hospice services.
They are wide-ranging and delivered by the seven nurses and more than 100 volunteers: home health care and pain management, delivery and setup of equipment such as special beds, respite care so the patient’s caregiver can take a breather, help with funeral arrangements and support for loved ones who are grieving.
Sometimes, a widowed spouse is at a complete loss, Hynes said, and doesn’t know how to keep the household books nor cook meals. Hospice volunteers help with those things, too.
“Our mission,” Hynes said, “is to take care of the people in the community,” including those who can’t afford to pay for home health care and other help.
Hospice care is patient-driven; insurance doesn’t come into the equation, she added.
Yet Volunteer Hospice’s mission cannot be accomplished without support from local residents.
So Hynes and the Volunteer Hospice board are hoping to convey a message to their community: We can’t continue without you.
“In five to seven years, if we don’t have more help,” said board member Ray Weinmann, “we will cease to exist, which would be a tragedy for the community.”
“Think about the amount of money Hospice has saved the community over the years,” said Hynes, adding that end-of-life care in hospitals is a large portion of all health care costs in this country.
Helping people come home for their last days is better all around, she believes.
Volunteer Hospice provides services for some 300 families in a year, Hynes noted.
“With the uncertainty of health care [coverage] now, there’s going to be a need for more community-based health care,” she said.
Volunteer Hospice is not seeking only monetary gifts. The agency also needs people who can share their time.
A training for volunteers who work directly with patients is set for February; for those who prefer to work in the Volunteer Hospice office, Hynes provides a less-complex orientation each month or so.
Busch, who is on the board’s long-range planning committee, became a volunteer after firsthand experience with Volunteer Hospice.
Immediately after he and his wife, Dottie, moved to Sequim from Rocklin, Calif., six years ago, Dottie was diagnosed with throat cancer. Soon, she needed 24-hour care.
Hospice worker Holly Daniel came over to give her foot massages and just to talk.
“Dottie adored that,” Busch said.
He stayed at his wife’s side, at home, until her death Nov. 10, 2005.
Not long after, Busch started volunteering as a bed delivery man for Volunteer Hospice. It helped him to keep busy with the agency that had been there for him and Dottie.
“You’ll never have a more difficult time in your life” than when you are saying goodbye to your beloved, Hynes said.
Volunteer Hospice is there to provide support and companionship throughout that time.
As she enters her second year as director, Hynes expressed gratitude for the volunteers and for nurses Laura Kinsley, Linda Mellon, Marty Melcher, Paula Richter, Gayla Spratt-Nuffer and Bette Wood.
“It takes a special nurse to be a hospice nurse,” Hynes said.
Gates added that the Volunteer Hospice business model — which has worked for more than three decades — relies on generosity and caring.
“We don’t have a CEO,” she said. “The stockholder is the community.”
To find out more about supporting Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, phone the office between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays at 360-452-1511, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.HospiceofClallamCounty.org.
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]