Hospice program connects veterans

Fairview seeks former service members as volunteers


Hospice volunteer Rick Ekstrand visits with Marcia Bartels, whose husband Larry received services through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice’s veteran-to-veteran program. (Photo submitted)

It seems veterans of all ages share a lifelong bond. Now a program that pairs veterans in hospice care with a hospice volunteer, who is also a veteran, is making a difference for servicemen and women in the final stages of life, and their families. Among the most recent beneficiaries of the veterans-to-veterans hospice program offered by Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice were a Hugo veteran and his wife, and volunteer Rick Ekstrand of Chisago City.

Working with veterans comes naturally to Ekstrand, whose dad and five uncles served in either WWII or Korea. A Vietnam-era veteran, Rick enlisted and served in the US Army from 1965-68. Now a devoted veterans advocate, he belongs to the Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW Post 4210 of Forest Lake, and Chisago City American Legion Post 272, where he serves as adjutant.

So when Ekstrand heard that Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice was looking for veterans who could relate to veterans in hospice care, it seemed like a natural fit.  Shortly after he retired, Ekstrand completed the requirements to become a hospice volunteer. His first contact was a 94-year-old veteran in a nursing care facility who enjoyed Rick’s visits talking both about the war and his work life. When the gentleman died, Rick contacted the family and helped arrange for an honor guard at his funeral.

“Our legion post makes this service available to any veteran,” he explains.

Rick’s most recent contacts were Larry and Marcia Bartels of Hugo. In this case, Rick gave Marcia a few hours of respite each week by staying with Larry, who was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Also a US Army veteran, Larry Bartels served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966.

Until this past summer, Marcia Bartels was able to take advantage of community programs to provide day care for her husband a couple days each week. This allowed Marcia, a retired administrative coordinator, to work part-time through last July. Recently when Larry became bedridden the majority of the time, the help of a hospice volunteer like Ekstrand was much appreciated.

“When Larry was first diagnosed,” Marcia says, “a wise woman told me, ‘Something will grow from all of this, and it will be you.’ She was right—I’ve learned so much, and I’ve found inner strength I never thought that I had.”

Since Larry’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s three years ago, Marcia says she became much better informed on the services available to veterans in her community.

“Washington County Human Services’ veterans advocate and Family Means of Stillwater were also very helpful,” in addition to the services of Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, she explains.

“I can’t imagine anybody in our situation not wanting (hospice services),” says Marcia, who says she has learned that it “takes a village” of family, friends, neighbors and hospice volunteers to help provide the care that she and Larry needed. Through hospice, the couple also has had the help of home health aides and a therapist, who offered Marcia tips on turning Larry in bed.

Rick has also found rewards in his experience as a hospice volunteer. “It feels good knowing that you’re doing something really good for somebody.”

Larry Bartels died Saturday, Nov. 10, a day after interviewing for this article. Rick provided one more service for Larry and Marcia the following Saturday as part of the honor guard for Larry’s funeral in Forest Lake.

Veterans interested in serving as hospice volunteers should call Tara Stein at (651) 257-8850.

Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, headquartered in Chisago City, provides home health, palliative and hospice care to residents of Chisago, Washington, Isanti, Anoka and Pine counties. The agency is a department of Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming. For more information, call 651-257-8850 or see www.lakes.fairview.org/homecare_hospice.