Hospice to Host Kentucky Derby Party May 7

Ask Jill Girard, a registered nurse with Heart of the Redwoods Community Hospice, to name some memorable recent patients, and she’ll tell you about a woman who died in January that presented some significant logistical challenges.

“Unlike lots of our clients, [for this one] we had to have a huge team of people to help with the situation. We had to pull in a huge amount of resources,” Girard related.

The patient, who was 54 at her death, lived several months longer than expected. Afflicted with advanced breast cancer, she experienced perhaps the worst kind of physical pain that cancer can wreak — bone pain.

To get her through it, a subcutaneous pump that delivers pain medication was obtained from Humboldt Home Infusion, a Eureka-based outfit affiliated with St. Joseph Hospital.

Girard’s care team also turned to ResolutionCare, Dr. Michael Fratkin’s palliative care group — Fratkin is Heart of the Redwoods’s medical director. “We utilized them for the medical challenges we faced with her,” Girard explained, adding that the patient in her last months “required 24-hour care.”

Technology in the form of videoconferencing also played a role in the care effort. While the patient was too ill to go to medical appointments, she did have internet access at her house. That made it possible for her “to interface with Dr. Fratkin from her own bed.” Girard said that in the end the woman “died very peacefully.”

Another memorable patient Girard has been involved in caring for in recent months was a man who through “a series of mistakes” ended up being treated for his cancer as he lay in a hospital bed in Eureka rather than where he wanted to be — at the home he had lived in out in the Blocksburg area for some 35 years.

Eventually, Girard said, “he made the decision that he wanted to go home. He wanted to be with his dog and his partner. He came home for one night and died in his sleep. His intention was very clear. I felt like he orchestrated it.”

While Heart of the Redwoods’s core mission is quite serious — to administer to dying patients and those struggling with life-threatening diseases — an event that’s coming up this Saturday will be focused on something else: Having fun.

Dubbed the Kentucky Derby Party because it will include a viewing of this year’s edition of the legendary horse race, Heart of the Redwoods’s 4th annual Spring Gala is taking place from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Beginnings Octagon in Briceland.

The bash features a host of activities ranging from the silly (like a bouncy ball race for both kids and adults) to the tasty — champagne and oysters, not to mention different types of Kentucky bourbon, will be available for sampling. A silent auction, meantime, will make available prizes such as a hot air balloon ride, a Napa Valley wine tasting tour and a wilderness experience courtesy of Mountain to the Sea Wilderness Camp.

Also up for grabs will be $600 worth of free advertising space in The Emerald Magazine, based in Eureka. That should be attractive, gala organizer Julie Peacock remarked, to anyone looking for “publicity for their new cannabis operation.”

J Catering out of Whitethorn is doing the appetizers while the Garberville Town Band, a 12-piece horn affair, and April Moore & Ranch Party, a country group, are providing the live music. Cost of admission is $75 for adults and $10 for children aged 10 to 15. Kids under 10 can get in for free.

Tickets can be purchased at the Heart of the Redwoods office, located at 464 Maple Lane, or at hrchkentuckyderby.brownpapertickets.com.

As lighthearted as this all may sound, the Spring Gala, along with two other major fundraising events — the BBQ and Brew, held in July at the Greycliff Rodeo Grounds in Benbow; and A Taste of the Cove, held in September at Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove — are vitally important for Heart of the Redwoods, which is heavily dependent on community support.

“Our services are free. We’re funded almost exclusively through community support. Fundraisers are crucial for our survival,” declared office manager Joe Whitney, who also serves on the group’s volunteer governing board.

Formed some 23 years ago after another hospice outfit folded, Heart of the Redwoods got going in the first place thanks to a fundraiser. It was a sit-down dinner at the Mateel Community Center in September 1993 that attracted 300 people and raised several thousand dollars — enough to start putting together an organization with a paid staff.

An anonymous donation a couple of years later made it possible for the organization to buy a house in Garberville that still serves as its headquarters. When a cabin next door came up for sale later on, the group snatched that up, too.

A key step in the organization’s development was to become incorporated as a nonprofit, something that was done right from the get-go. Another was the decision to not accept Medicare funding.

“All Medicare hospices are required to have [patients with a] six months’ terminal diagnosis. They need to agree to stop all treatment during that period of time when they are in hospice care,” board member Heather Kornberg explained. “We don’t require our clients to do that. If they want to continue treatments, we say: ‘Go ahead.’”

“So some of our patients are still getting chemotherapy. Some are doing dialysis. Or whatever they feel is right for them.”

“We have had some patients [who were considered] terminal, who seemed like they were going to die but then got better,” Kornberg went on. As a result, she said the organization has both “an active client list and an inactive client list.”

While the active client list changes as patients pass away, or occasionally get better, the average number of patients on the list is 16, Kornberg said.

As for money matters, the annual budget is in the $120,000 to $130,000 range. And while fundraisers deliver the biggest cash infusions, there are other sources of income. Donations made in the memory of a deceased person is one example. Another is grants.

One last year from the McLean Foundation, along with a matching grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation, brought in $12,000. The money is making possible improvements to the Maple Lane facility — specifically, a new roof and new flooring.

More recently, a large donation from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California got divvied up among five local nonprofits. Heart of the Redwoods’s share was $20,000. “That really helped in meeting our goals,” Whitney remarked.

The purchase of sponsorships by local businesses such as Greenwired and Dazey’s Supply, meanwhile, help pay for the cost of the fundraisers.

Currently, Whitney said, the organization is in decent financial shape. “A couple of years ago we were in financial straits. We were looking at a year-end deficit. But we’ve turned it around. We’re pretty much breaking even.”

Which is another way of saying that money-wise, no one at Heart of the Redwoods can relax much. “We don’t have much of a cushion,” Whitney acknowledged. “We’re fortunate that we have community support.”