Southeast Texas Hospice holding public memorial in Orange

Published 12:30 am Thursday, July 14, 2022

When Southeast Texas Hospice in Orange formed in 1976, it became the first hospice in Texas and one of just 20 nationwide.

More than 45 years later, the hospice continues to help hundreds of patients and families with thousands of medical visits and care for those for whom a doctor has certified has a terminal diagnosis.

Executive Director Mary McKenna said the group’s mission is to do “everything we can” to make our patients’ lives meaningful.

“Some unique examples include providing a birthday party and a bicycle for a young daughter whose single mother was dying,” McKenna said. “This last birthday party with her mother became a memorable one. On another occasion, we worked with the Red Cross to have a son return home from the military in time to say goodbye to his father who was dying.”

McKenna said families often reach out for help at home when a patient can no longer go to the doctor or family members need help with bathing and wound care.

Individualized care is carried out by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplain and home health aides and volunteers. Also, hospice can provide a number of medical supplies and prescription medications, she said.

“The mission of the Southeast Texas Hospice is to transform dying into the final act of living well,” McKenna said.

After a patient’s death, hospice continues to provide care in the form of a 12-month grief program for relatives, including support group meetings, telephone calls to check in with loved ones, visits as needed by the families and an annual memorial service.

The hospice, the only non-profit palliative care organization in Southeast Texas, has grown from an initial four founding members to include a governing board of 12 civic leaders, a staff of 16 and more than 65 volunteers who serve an average of 200 patient families yearly, McKenna said.

Cristi Fall, registered nurse and director of patient services, has been a hospice nurse for 20 years, working exclusively for Southeast Texas Hospice.

She said it has been a rewarding experience.

“I think of my job as a ministry,” said Fall. “We treat patients’ physical needs but also address the patient and family’s emotional, spiritual and psychological needs.”

Fall said the patient/family are treated as one unit, making hospice nursing different from any other nursing field.

Staff nurse Shirley Adams is one of the newest hire for hospice. She said that going through hospice care with her own family “opened my eyes.”

“God opened the door for me to use my nursing ministry in a field that is like no other,” Adams said. “Most people, when they hear you are a hospice nurse, say ‘I could never do that.’ But actually, that is so far from the truth. A most rewarding job is to come into a home and flip the atmosphere, raise their spirits and outlook and help them in every way we can.”

The in-person memorial service, suspended during COVID-19, is a chance to share and remember the lives of those lost in the past year, McKenna said.

The two-hour memorial begins at 2 p.m. July 21 at the hospice office, 912 W. Cherry in Orange.

— By Dan Bledsoe