Hospice workers, volunteers find special calling

Wesley Clouser said working in the hospice field is more of a calling than a job.

“I feel hospice is a calling; this is not a job or a position that you work and labor at if you’re not called to it,” said Clouser, admissions counselor for Infinity Hospice Care in Pahrump. “So, it takes a special person with a ‘gifting,’ I guess if you will, to be able to do this.”

Clouser, who entered the medical field in 2009, lost an uncle without the help of hospice and later lost another family member with hospice services which he described as “a world of difference.”

He said he gained a “personal passion” for hospice care then and didn’t want to see other families go through what his did with the illness of his uncle who did not receive hospice care.

And it’s not just Clouser. “A Family of Caring” is the catchphrase of Infinity Hospice Care displayed on its website, literature and signage.

November brings a renewed focus on hospice care because it is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.

“The goal with that on a national level is just to bring awareness with hospice and palliative care and how it affects not only the patient, but the family and the friends,” said Kim Anderson, vice president of business development for Infinity Hospice Care. “Hospice is a philosophy of care so it offers a holistic approach to symptom management in the face of a life-limiting illness. Care is provided wherever the patient resides, either in their home, a long-term care facility, assisted living facility or a group home environment.”

Medical director Dr. Craig M. Jorgenson works with a team of clinicians who are available 24/7 to assist the case managers and nurses in the field.

Other services include those of certified nursing assistants, social workers, physical and speech therapists, spiritual and bereavement counselors among others.

Case Manager Martin Begin, who is also a registered nurse, helps clients manage their disease or diagnosis.

He said each experience is different and personal, like the patient that told him very clearly that he didn’t want him coming into his home to watch him die.

“I told him straight out, ‘That’s not why we’re here’,” Begin said. “‘We’re here to help you live.’ We’re going to focus on keeping him safe, keeping him comfortable, maintaining his dignity, educating him, just helping him to stay as independent as possible, helping him live life.”

Clouser noted that all of the Pahrump staff lives in the town.

“We’re local people taking care of local people,” Clouser said. “We’re a family-owned and operated company and so, in essence, we’re actually family taking care of family.”

Las Vegas-based Infinity Hospice Care is a family affair owned and operated by the Bertrams: President Mary L. Bertram and her two sons, Darren R. Bertram, the chief executive officer, and Brian Bertram, the executive vice president.

Mary Bertram has a bachelor of science in nursing, Darren Bertram has a law degree from the University of Illinois, and Brian Bertram holds two master’s degrees from San Diego State.

Infinity Hospice Care is marking its 10 year anniversary, opening its first location in Phoenix in 2005, followed by sites in Las Vegas in 2007, Reno in 2010, and Pahrump in 2012.

The company plans future growth into rural areas where there are no services for assistance in the home.

Hospice is meant for individuals with a life-limiting illness when aggressive treatment is no longer beneficial or desired by the patient. The focus is then shifted to comfort care and pain management through the resources of the hospice team.

“Hospice is ideal for those people who are just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Begin said. “They want to get control back in their lives. They want to live the rest of their days, however many that is, the way they want to live it. They want to be safe, they want to be comfortable, they appreciate people coming into their home to help them care for them.”

Clouser believes there is a need for more hospice care locally since diseases are not always specific to gender or age and will continue as Pahrump’s population grows.

“Primarily, there are people who are elderly that are on our services, but we’ve seen them as young as in their 20’s come onto our service as well, too,” he said.

The concept of hospice has changed the past 40 years when it was meant only for patients with cancer, according to Begin. Medicare has expanded it to include other diseases such as heart failure, respiratory distress, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other life-limiting diseases.

Medicare covers hospice care as do some private insurance plans.

Palliative care is meant for individuals who are not quite ready for hospice, but need some assistance with medications, pain management or other services in the home.

Begin said he chose to work in the hospice field “to provide dignity to the patient in the home, to provide that compassionate care in the home.”

He compared it to when doctors used to make house calls, calling hospice “the next best thing.”

Nikkie Ellis, volunteer coordinator for clients of Infinity Hospice Care in Pahrump and Southern Nevada, said there’s a need for more volunteers in Pahrump.

No special training is needed. Compassion is the only requirement.

“Because you have to have that heart when you’re going to visit any one of our patients at any time,” Ellis said.

Volunteers are needed to sit with patients, read to them, play games, watch television or movies with them and just to provide social companionship, Ellis said. They also provide a break or “respite relief” to the primary caregivers and family members to run errands so they don’t get burned out.

Ellis has no time requirement on the number of hours or days for volunteers to complete.

“The way that I see it is, you’re volunteering your time and I’m so thankful that you even came to me to say that you wanted to be a volunteer,” Ellis added.

Infinity Hospice Care supports the “We Honor Veterans” program under the umbrella of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs. The program focuses on the needs of veterans and their end-of-life care.

Ellis said they give clients who are veterans a certificate honoring them for their service and she also tries to match them with volunteers who are also veterans.

Jim Gossard, a new volunteer, said he is “looking forward to helping people.”

While living in Virginia he used to volunteer at a hospital gift shop and helped provide a break to the family caring for a man who had Alzheimer’s by spending time with him and taking him to dinner.

Volunteer Crystal Williams has been with Infinity Hospice Care a few months, mostly at the in-patient facility in Las Vegas, but comes out to Pahrump since there is a shortage of volunteers.

For 10 years she helped care for her mother, who had dementia .

“I think I’m just a born caregiver,” Williams said. “I had 13 brothers and sisters and I was the eldest and just a caregiver by nature. I think it’s just something in my blood, but, I enjoy doing it; I enjoy people.”

She and Gossard agree that sometimes there is a connection or just a “click” between a volunteer and patient.

“The conversations just become alive and there’s shared laughter and joy and love,” Williams said. “It takes us out of our own self and we’re giving to someone else and what a pleasure that is, what a pleasure.”

“We need volunteers out in Pahrump,” Ellis emphasized. “There’s a huge need for it.”

At least every two-to-three weeks she gets a request for volunteers. A caregiver may need someone to run to the grocery store for them and to help put groceries away. It could be as simple as that mentioned Ellis.

For more information on volunteering email Nikki Ellis at volunteer.lv@infinityhospicecare.com or call the Pahrump office at 775-537-2002.

Infinity Care Hospice is located at 3250 S. Hwy 160, Suite #10. Their website is www.infinityhospicecare.com.