On the corner of 5th Street and 1st Avenue North in downtown Ketchum is a small barn-red building that stands quaintly behind its window boxes flush with wildflowers. Petite, as far as Ketchum buildings are concerned, this one-time residential structure houses the headquarters of Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley (HPCWRV).
Inside this demure and well-manicured office resides a team of highly trained and compassionate nurses, volunteers and healthcare professionals who share a common goal: assisting in end-of-life care and bereavement services. But it is the focus on life and living that drives each of these remarkable individuals.
Lisa Wild, hired as the new executive director in 2015, is a smart, articulate, attractive woman in her mid-thirties who has a background as a registered nurse and a clinical coordinator, most recently for the hospice in Winter Park, Colorado. Wild is originally from Indiana and had never visited Idaho until the interview process brought her here last year.
Of her new hometown, Wild said, “I love it. This is a very warm and welcoming community.” And beyond the excitement and challenge of running a nationally renowned hospice care service, she loves to ski.
For someone relatively young, Wild has a well-formed philosophy that guides her professional life and caregiving, in general. “We should provide excellence in end-of-life care and bereavement services,” she said. “People want someone to be walking alongside them. You learn from people who are facing hard times. We should all be living our lives to the fullest. It is an honor to be with people when they are fully focused on that.”
In 2015, HPCWRV served 2,799 individuals throughout the Wood River Valley, including 118 hospice patients and their families. Over 90 volunteers contributed more than 5,000 hours of service while driving over 20,000 miles within the Wood River Valley and surrounding communities.
The organization is a successful entity based on a unique operating model within the hospice industry. According to Wild, “Nowhere else in the country has this model. Yes, we serve the community in the ways that standard hospices do by focusing on the concept of care that values the whole person, fosters the quality of life and assures comfort, when cure of disease does not seem feasible. But we offer many more services also, and we are entirely privately funded.”
One of the uncommon services the local hospice offers is immediate response to unexpected fatalities, whether those occurrences take place in residences, the local hospital or on the ski mountain.
The success of the hospice program is due to a great deal of effort and vision and is the result of superb guidance and direction from Carolyn Nystrom, the executive director emeritus. Originally from Oakland, California, and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Nystrom has been the driving force behind hospice since she accepted the directorship in 1990.
Nystrom comes across as an intelligent, focused person of purpose whose kind and heartfelt laughter softens the serious subject of her life’s work. “When I started, no one was talking about end-of-life care. Now people are doing advanced care planning. People are talking about it, and people see the value of it.”
When asked about hospice’s operating model, which Nystrom designed from the ground up, she said, “We are the envy of the nation as far as this hospice’s relationship with the hospital and the community. More than 90 percent of people who die in Blaine County are serviced by the Wood River Valley Hospice. No other hospice can claim such high penetration rates.”
The hospice’s website addresses the fact that the hospice accepts no federal funds: “HPCWRV has chosen to remain a free-standing, volunteer-intensive hospice in order to give patients, their families and the medical community the greatest amount of flexibility and access to end-of-life care. HPCRWV is able to respond to and provide services for our community needs, goals and priorities and to the people we serve. We are not limited by the restraints of being funded by Medicare. Our community has made a significant commitment to quality hospice and palliative care, bereavement services and caregiver support through its contributions to hospice.”
This speaks to the quality of the hospice’s services but also illuminates the challenges of providing such significant and valuable services based on the generosity of community donors. “We are 100 percent privately funded through the generosity of Wood River Valley residents,” Nystrom said. “This hospice is part of the fabric of the community, a community that values a high quality of living. Our organization and the way we function is a reflection of this unique community. Everything that we do for patients, individuals, families, and community members is provided free of charge.”
Nystrom, recipient of many national awards for hospice care and the Idaho Mountain Express’ 2015 Woman of the Year, is now focused on the next chapter of her life and that of the hospice as well. She is spearheading an endowment fund that will ensure that the Wood River Valley will benefit from the hospice’s services for generations to come.
Personally, Nystrom looks forward to morning drives to Stanley and reading on the shores of Alturas Lake. Laughing, she mentioned a line from a book she is reading, Beverlye Hyman Fead’s “Aging in High Heels”: “When you’re 80 years old, you don’t retire, you reign.”
When asked what advice she would give the new executive director, Nystrom said, “Strive for excellence, manage the mission of excellent end-of-life and bereavement care and listen to the community.”
Wild certainly shares these goals. In a profession that is centered on the challenging focus of end-of-life care, Wild sums up the hospice’s approach, “We serve the community by focusing on life and living life to the fullest. Everything we do and every person we serve is a direct result of the community supporting that person. It truly is an honor.”