Emmanuel Hospice’s Virtual Annual Celebration to Benefit Quality End-of-Life Care, Provide Support for Families

Emmanuel Hospice invites the West Michigan community to join its virtual annual celebration from Sept. 22–Oct. 1.

Presented by CareLinc Medical Equipment, the online signature event will offer supporters, wherever they are, an opportunity to engage with the organization’s mission as frequently as they wish at emmanuelhospice.org/annualcelebration.

The event page will feature inspirational stories from those the nonprofit has served, a silent auction and opportunities to invest in the future of Emmanuel Hospice.

This is the second year Emmanuel has hosted its signature event virtually due to COVID-19. The nonprofit hopes to build on the success of last year’s online event, which raised more than $55,000.

“Our team is known for meeting each person exactly where they are, and for meeting each challenge with creativity and compassion,” said Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice. “In that same spirit, we’re keeping with last year’s successful virtual experience model to safely celebrate our work with the community.

“We invite all families, caregivers, volunteers and community members to join us to expand the boundaries of care, ensuring every last moment is cherished and lived with integrity.”

This year’s event goal is to raise $75,000 to support Emmanuel Hospice complementary therapies and services, including funding for a new complementary service, the Art Legacy program.

Art Legacy is designed to engage patients by encouraging self-expression while assisting in symptom management, supporting memories and providing connection between the patient, loved ones and Emmanuel care team. Art Legacy allows the patient the ability to control and create, which can also offer caregivers new insight into a patient’s life or their thoughts and feelings during their hospice journey.

Funds will also be used to support new programs that rely on technology, which has long been a part of Emmanuel’s holistic approach to serving its patients and families – and made more critical by the pandemic.

In 2020, Emmanuel launched a new telehealth program to continue serving patients and facilitate family interaction amid visitor restrictions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Emmanuel’s nurses, social workers, spiritual caregivers, music therapists and other team members are able to provide virtual care at the bedside through the use of iPads and specially designed transport carts.

Technology has also been integrated with many of Emmanuel’s complementary therapies and services to provide support and overcome barriers. For example, the use of virtual reality headsets and videos through the Flight To Remember Foundation allow patients to tour a meaningful location they’re unable to visit physically. The virtual annual celebration will highlight these offerings, new programs and other unique aspects about the nonprofit organization.

Andy Holtgreive, a consultant of ARIA Show Technology, one of the annual celebration’s sponsors, said Emmanuel Hospice’s early adoption of technology is a reflection of the organization’s commitment to continual improvement.

“Emmanuel Hospice is a tremendously progressive organization in everything they do from the care they provide to the way they engage the community,” Holtgreive said. “With the end user in mind, Emmanuel Hospice creates the highest level of virtual value and meaning for their community of supporters with a clear intention and purpose to their mission.”

With more than 90 team members and growing, the hospice care provider is now serving more than 175 patients daily in Kent and the surrounding counties. The organization also provides grief counseling and support services annually to more than 2,000 family members and community members.

Emmanuel Hospice has twice been named one of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For by the National Association for Business Resources for its commitment to excellence in human resource practices and employee enrichment. In 2020, the nonprofit provider of hospice care also received recognition on the national level.


About Emmanuel Hospice
Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit www.emmanuelhospice.org.

Emmanuel Hospice Embraces Technology to Better Serve its Patients and Families

One patient went across the country to visit a favorite lake in California. Another traveled to Romania to take in views of the village where she’d been born. And yet a third fulfilled a dream of embarking on a hot air balloon ride.

In all three instances, none of these patients left the comfort of their own home. They were transported virtually, thanks to an innovative partnership between Emmanuel Hospice and The Flight To Remember Foundation, which uses drone technology to allow patients to tour a
meaningful location they’re unable to visit physically.

“Part of our mission is to keep asking ourselves how we can expand the boundaries of care and build bigger and better tools,” says Heather Duffy, Emmanuel’s director of fund development. “In every instance, we want to be able to answer ‘yes’ to a patient wondering if we can do something to help them live their best life.”

Since its inception, Emmanuel has constantly strived to integrate technology into its menu of complementary therapies. But the issue was especially driven home during the ongoing pandemic, which prompted caregivers to seek alternative ways of interacting with and providing services to some patients.

“It became especially tricky with visiting restrictions,” observes Katie VanRyn, a social worker for Emmanuel. “But in recognizing the importance of connecting with our staff and with a patient’s loved ones, it became vital for us to pivot and adapt.”

Fueled by a passion to serve, Emmanuel sought and acquired funding to purchase iPads, Oculus virtual reality headsets and other technology that allowed patients to interact remotely.

“Even though a patient might enjoy my visit with them,” VanRyn says. “I know they’d rather be with family and friends, and when I can make those connections, that’s very fulfilling for us all.”

Perhaps the most innovative technological advance is via The Flight to Remember Foundation, founded in Ohio in 2015 and dedicated to providing “priceless moments of happiness during life’s most trying times.”

The nonprofit foundation partners with a network of volunteer drone pilots worldwide who honor requests to create videos of meaningful places a patient is unable to visit, but yearns to see one more time. The pilots use their small, unmanned craft to fly to a height of 400 feet to take in the vistas, then create a high-quality video which is then digitally transferred to the hospice to be shared with the patient. The patient is given the option of preserving the video in whatever format best suits them – a DVD, flash drive or via a digital link, for instance.

“Through virtual reality and the flights to remember, we’re providing something that would not otherwise be possible, usually due to a physical limitation,” Duffy says. “From the comfort of their home, they can go on a roller-coaster ride, take a hike through the mountains, ride a gondola – anything that brings comfort fulfillment, connection or joyful moments to our patients.

“It’s our way of offering more love, more care and more peace to more people in our community who need it most.”

Hospice Care: Understanding The “Who”

It’s not unusual to unearth misconceptions about hospice when discussing it as a healthcare option.

One of the prime misconceptions has to do with exactly who is eligible.

Basically, it’s anyone who’s been diagnosed by a qualified physician with a terminal illness and has six months to live or less.

As with virtually anything, there are a few asterisks to consider, but patient access specialists like Lindsey Cosgrove of Emmanuel Hospice emphasize that when in doubt, simply make a phone call to schedule a meeting to gather information specific to your medical situation.

“Too many people have this notion that hospice is mainly for the 98-year-old grandma or grandpa who has a day or a few days to live,” Cosgrove says. “That’s why we’re so eager to provide education, whether it be for a patient or that patient’s family or caregiver.”

Armed with information makes it easier for someone contemplating hospice to zero in on whether it’s something they should choose sooner or later, she says.

Cosgrove and others at Emmanuel – especially clinical teams comprised of nurses, social workers, spiritual caregivers and various therapists – can cite too many times when a person was frightened or misinformed and waited until the last minute to sign on for care.

“The number of people who tell us they wish they would have called us sooner?” Cosgrove poses.

“A lot.”

What too many fail to realize are the ways in which hospice can intervene weeks or months before a person dies. Sometimes, they’re swayed by physicians who are intent on curing their malady when in fact the illness is destined to result in the person’s death.

Still others are fearful that hospice will take away all their medications and not manage their symptoms. “That’s just not true,” says Cosgrove, explaining how rather than focusing on cures, hospice promotes palliative care, which leans on strategies to improve comfort and quality of life while relieving symptoms.

Those strategies might involve anything from a supervised drug regimen to visits from skilled nurses, spiritual advisors and aides – and treatments from therapists specializing in aromatherapy, music, massage and much more.

Another misconception is that hospice is available only to those in a hospital setting. Again, untrue, says Cosgrove, noting that organizations like Emmanuel Hospice will meet you virtually anywhere you live – in your house, apartment, condo, retirement community and more.

Another thing to consider is that Medicare and most commercial insurances cover 100% of virtually everything provided by hospice – visits, medicine, aides, counseling and other services. Again, there are some limitations, but one call to Emmanuel will help you discover where you stand. “If you’re unsure about how you qualify, we’re ready to assist,” Cosgrove says.

Cosgrove emphasizes that it all begins with that conversation: “We deal with a fair number of people who aren’t even sick, but just want to have as much information in hand ahead of time. It’s all about planning for the future, and learning in the moment so that when the time comes, you have clarity.”

Nurturing the Spirit to Find Peace and Purpose at the End of Life

Peace, purpose and meaning are terms that can’t always be easily illustrated or explained.

But it’s what the Rev. Nathaniel Johnson brings to the people he sees as one of eight spiritual caregivers employed by Emmanuel Hospice.

“My job is to help remind folks of what brings meaning, hope and purpose to their lives,” he says. “Many times when people are faced with a physical health crisis, such as a terminal prognosis, their world gets recalibrated, and you look for things that you can hang onto in the midst of the uncertainty.

“I connect people with those things that help them find a foothold in this very uncertain process. For some, it’s a faith connection. For others, it might be connecting through nature – via gardening or photography or art or anything that brings beauty into their life.

“For some, it’s family – looking into the faces of their children or grandchildren and being reminded of their legacy, how it continues on long after they’re gone physically.”

In any case, he emphasizes: “It expands into something so much broader than one’s religious identity. That’s certainly a component, but it’s also about who am I, what matters to me, what gives me meaning and purpose and hope.”

Johnson’s perspective has been shaped over a lifetime of serving the spiritual needs of others. He was born and raised in Japan, one of four children born to missionaries. He has more than 30 years of experience, having served two Methodist churches in West Michigan and as a chaplain at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

He has developed into a champion for hospice care, which he points out “is a vital aspect of care … completely covered by Medicare,” but for which too many people wait too long to sign up for.

Johnson emphasizes hospice is about helping people decide how they want to live out the rest of their lives. In acknowledging the spiritual component Emmanuel Hospice focuses on as part of its caregiving, Johnson explains.

10 Signs It Might Be Time for Hospice Care

10 Signs It Might Be Time for Hospice Care

Making the decision to enter end-of-life care can be a difficult one. According to a national survey, only 32 percent of people have had the conversation with their family — though almost all feel it’s an important one to have. While every individual case is different, there are some signs that indicate it might be time for your loved one to enter hospice care.


How will you know when it’s time for hospice for your loved one? 


1) A doctor has given your loved one a prognosis of six months or less.

Hospice is holistic care and support typically reserved for someone with a life-ending condition who has six or fewer months to live, as determined by a licensed physician. 


2) They’re experiencing a dramatic weight loss or change in appetite.

An extremely light appetite and minimal thirst could be a sign of the body beginning to shut down. If you notice dramatic changes in your loved one’s eating and drinking habits — leading to big changes in weight and body composition — a call to hospice could help.


3) You’re noticing decreased alertness, withdrawal and consistent confusion.

For some, nearing the end of life causes them to withdraw from everyday situations, appear unaware of their surroundings or confused about where they are and who they’re with. It might seem like your loved one is tuning out. While these signs can be alarming, they are common.


4) Your loved one is sleeping longer and more frequently.

Near the end of life, longer and more frequent sleeping is normal. The body begins to slow down and needs more chances to recharge. 


5) They are no longer able to perform everyday tasks.

A decline in the ability to perform daily tasks including eating, getting dressed, walking or using the bathroom are signs that it might be time for hospice.


6) You’ve seen a sudden, rapid mental decline.

Similarly to consistent confusion, a rapid decline in mental capacity can mean care is needed. Things to be on the lookout for are personality changes, hallucinations, depression and loss of motivation.


7) You’ve seen a sudden, rapid physical decline.

Physical decline is typical in older age, but there is a difference between normal decline and rapid decline. Sometimes frequent falls that cause larger, longer-lasting bruises are a sign of rapid decline. Difficulty breathing and more consistent pain are also possible symptoms.


8) Pain is becoming chronic and unmanageable.

Not all pain is indicative of the need for hospice care. However, if you’re monitoring pain and it is progressively worsening and current medications are no longer effective, it may be time to contact hospice.


9) You’re making frequent emergency room visits or hospital trips.

Hospice could be the next step if the emergency room and hospital are becoming like a second home. When you find yourself there often, for increasingly longer visits or worsening reasons, it’s time to start considering a plan for hospice care.


10) Previous treatments are beginning to become ineffective.

Hospice focuses on caring for — not curing — patients.


Does my loved one need palliative care or hospice care?

If treatment is still a possibility, palliative care might be a better choice for your loved one. Palliative care provides treatment for patients facing serious and life-threatening illnesses. But unlike hospice care, palliative care can be accessed at any point during an illness and alongside curative treatment.


Does hospice hasten the dying process?

Hospice does not hasten the dying process. In fact, studies show hospice care can actually increase life expectancy by managing symptoms and providing holistic support.


Call Emmanuel Hospice When

If, alongside doctors and caregivers, you and your loved one have decided to discontinue treatment and shift the day-to-day focus from a cure to comfort, it is time for hospice. Hospice is not about giving up, it focuses neither on prolonging nor ending life, but instead on delivering end-of-life care, maximizing comfort and reducing pain. It’s about deciding how you want to live in the moments you have left.


People sometimes wait too long before calling hospice in. “We hear that a lot,” says Layna Miron, Hospice Aide Team Lead. “It’s perceived as a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be, especially when people realize what a service we provide. We end up taking a lot of stress off the family.” When in doubt, Miron says “sooner is usually better than later” to initiate contact.


At Emmanuel Hospice, it is our calling to make every moment meaningful — for you and your family. Our team of doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice aides, spiritual caregivers, grief support specialists and volunteers work together, rallying around individual needs to care for the whole person — mind, body and spirit.