A retired Awards Program Coordinator at SAE International and retired hot air balloon pilot of 20 years, Ginny Whipple now enjoys kayaking, fishing, geocaching, and photography. Just under a year ago, however, she added another hobby to her list: volunteering for Good Samaritan Hospice (GSH). Like many who are compelled to donate their time, Ginny experienced GSH care firsthand, as her mother spent her final days at the organization’s Heritage Valley inpatient unit.
Those who knew Ginny’s mother, Anne, would describe her as a sweet woman who never complained, an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, and a talented dancer (she and her husband used to draw a crowd when they danced). Upon showing signs of forgetfulness, Anne moved into an assisted living facility at age 84, where she lived until she fell and broke her hip in December of 2013 at the age of 90.
That was when Ginny and her siblings were faced with difficult questions. Was surgery truly the best course of action for their elderly mother? Is it what she would have wanted?
“We had no idea what to do,” Ginny said. “The surgery was not recommended, nor was it what we wanted for Mom. We didn’t want to put her through that.”
It was then that Anne’s doctor referred her family to Good Samaritan Hospice.
Shortly after speaking with the doctor, Ginny and her family were visited by a representative from GSH. While a nurse evaluated Anne’s condition, the family toured the facility. The atmosphere wasn’t at all what they had expected.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” Ginny said. “It wasn’t anything like being in a hospital; it was like being in someone’s home. Everything we needed was there, a kitchen, a comfortable living room for my family to gather, and even a chapel. And Mom’s room was lovely.”
Within an hour of approval for GSH services, Anne was transferred to the Good Samaritan Hospice inpatient unit at Heritage Valley. But it was more than just the cozy environment that drew Anne’s family to GSH. Ginny recalls the “little special things” that made the experience a positive one.
“The nurses were angels, and everything was above and beyond what we expected,” Ginny said. “They were attentive to Mom’s needs and always made sure she was comfortable. And at the same time, they also took care of us.” Ginny explained that the nurses were comforting to her family, but not coddling, and answered the tough questions honestly when asked.
“We originally thought we had weeks left with Mom, when the reality of it was we only had a few days,” she said. According to Ginny, the nurses on duty took the time to explain the subtle changes in Anne’s condition. “They used their education and experience to help us understand what was happening to Mom. They explained everything so well that there really weren’t any surprises.”
“The care that was extended to our family was special,” she added. “Spiritual care was even provided, which has always been an important part of our lives. It was wonderful that element wasn’t hidden.”
Between three and four short months after her mother’s death, Ginny returned to Good Samaritan Hospice to inquire about volunteering.
“There was some concern from the volunteer coordinator that it was too soon after Mom’s death to start volunteering,” Ginny said, “but it’s not a place of bad memories for me, even though it’s where Mom passed away. After talking with the staff, they let me continue with the orientation process and I’ve been volunteering ever since.”
On Thursday afternoons, Ginny returns to GSH at Heritage Valley to help in any way she can – from stuffing admission/discharge packets to doing laundry and tidying up the kitchen. She also brings a homemade dessert for the staff and families to enjoy and good-naturedly refers to the GSH employees as her test subjects when she tries out new recipes. Additionally, several of her recent photographs are now adorning the walls of the GSH facility located at Heritage Valley.
For those seeking hospice care for a loved one, Ginny had the following advice: “Tour the facility you are considering and talk with the staff,” said Ginny. “It won’t take you long to know if it’s a good fit.”
To learn more about the hospice services offered at Good Samaritan Hospice, contact our administrative offices at 1-800-720-2557 or use the Contact form on our website.
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