By MaryAnn Kromer
During her tenure at Community Hospice Care, Rebecca Shank has guided the agency through many changes.
Initially, the agency was not accredited. Shank said some employees left during the accreditation process in 1996 because they were not willing to take additional training.
"It seems like every time you do a major change, some people find it easier to leave," Shank said. "When I came, there was one computer in the front office and I said, 'What am I supposed to do with it?'"
Since then, Shank has learned to use the machine. In 2010, hospice switched to electronic healthcare. Although it was not mandated at that time, Shank said she saw the trend coming and wanted to be proactive. Employees who did not want to learn the computer and software programs left hospice at that time, also. The social worker, aides and nurses all had to make the transition to laptops.
"That was a big cost factor for us. Now, we're almost at the point where we've had them for over three years. ... It will be time to replace laptops," Shank said. "They use them every day."
Soon, all health care providers will be required to do electronic record keeping and billing. Shank said younger employees are familiar with computers and adapt more easily than she did.
Another large expense for hospice was the purchase of a vehicle to transport equipment. Shank said she saw the nurses struggling to haul equipment in their own vehicles.
"When I first came, we had our own hospital beds to deliver to patients. It would take four or five of us to carry a hospital bed to the car, take it to the person's home and put it together," Shank said.
Hospice also had to bring the beds back to be cleaned and stored at the office. As director, Shank also decided to contract with local companies to supply the beds, deliver them and do the set-up. The nurses still haul commodes, walkers and other small pieces, but they can manage those items more easily.
Having begun with all care being done in private homes, hospice workers have branched into nursing homes and assisted living facilities in recent years.
Volunteers remain a vital component for the non-profit organization. When Shank started, Community Hospice had about 30 volunteers. Now, it has 155.
Hospice always is looking for volunteers. Athletic teams from Heidelberg and Tiffin universities frequently volunteer. Shank said CROSWAEH inmates and people needing court-assigned community service can perform some tasks at hospice, such as setting up for fundraising events.
In the past, advertising was not essential because Community Hospice was the only provider of its kind in the area. Presently, there are four hospice agencies, so Shank has added advertising to the budget. All provide the same quality care for the terminally ill, Shank said, but some are for-profit, while others are not. Some offer more services than others.
Shank said she has kept notebooks of job descriptions, benefits, policies and practices to pass along to the next director; however, keeping it current has been a challenge. Some jobs can be covered when the main employee is on vacation or sick leave. Shank said most of her work can only be done by her. If she is away, the work is waiting for her return.
"Fortunately, we do have enough nurses. Patient care is our priority; we always have that covered," Shank said.
Fundraising is another important aspect of the director's job.
November is Hospice month, so hospice has created angel cut-outs that can be purchased and displayed in taverns to remember lost loved ones. Shank said the agency tries to have some kind of event every month to appeal to different populations. The Christmas Add-A-Bow was the first fundraiser Shank had to oversee. At the time, it was the only hospice fundraiser.
"We had it inside the mall, and they did one in Fostoria and in Willard and in five or six different stores," she said.
Some of those stores have closed or changed their policies. Securing volunteers also has become more difficult. Shank said bowling teams and church groups used to sign up to staff the trees, but now they are more likely to donate money for hospice.
Bob Evans has hosted a community fundraiser and the Baumann charity car raffle has supported hospice every year. Donations also come to hospice from individuals, churches and fraternal organizations such as the Moose, AMVETs and Eagles.
Shank said hospice tries to reciprocate by attending some of the benefits sponsored by those organizations and by renting space in their halls for hospice events.
The Festival of Trees each November is a major fundraiser Shank instituted. She had seen a similar event in the Cleveland area and brought the idea back to try on a smaller scale. At first, volunteers served light refreshments and accepted only decorated trees for the auction. As it became more popular, wreaths and other items were added and more food was served. The event has taken place at a variety of venues, but it continues to be an important source of income.
The Hospice Waddle was an idea Shank learned about while on a trip to an Indiana town with her husband. The citizens had a charity duck race on a river that flowed from a hill down through the community. Shank thought the event could be adapted for a similar benefit in Tiffin. She called the city to get permission before going ahead with the project on the last day of the Heritage Festival.
"We came up with the Hospice Waddle. The first year, we bought 1,000 ducks and we were sold out ... So then we ordered 500 more," Shank said.
The first batch was yellow, but the second was orange. All had to be numbered the first time.
Shank said the river level is always a concern, but the race has never been canceled. When the water is higher, the ducks travel more quickly, sending volunteers scrambling to collect them. Last year, Shank said college students helped round up the ducks, empty the water, sanitize and dry them before they were stored for the next year.
"They did it all. That was a lot of work," Shank said. "We've never lost a duck."