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Cedar Valley Hospice celebrates 40 years of service to the community

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) – 40 years is a long time for a non-profit organization to not only be in existence, but to thrive.  And that’s exactly why a fundraising celebration was held April 12 to honor the Cedar Valley Hospice’s four decades of impacting lives in our community.

Karol Rae Hoth & Tom Langlas

Red Carpet Nights was the theme of this year’s annual gala.  Karol Rae Hoth and Tom Langlas, two of the original founders of the organization, were on hand to welcome guests and talk about the importance of the evening.

KWWL’s Abby Turpin was the evening’s emcee and read the following history of the non-profit, written by CVH’s Chris Olds:

One of the most important things happening in our community in 1979 was that a group of dedicated volunteers had been meeting in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Waterloo as they discussed the concept and implementation of the area’s first hospice program.  Over the next few years, the volunteers worked harder than they’d ever worked before.

Over the next few years, the volunteers worked harder than they’d ever worked before with a list of community leaders involved that would take way too long to read and would surely leave someone out – but you’d recognize the names and you’d be surprised at who and why people took this project on. It wasn’t just doctors and nurses, although their expertise was certainly needed. It was accountants, lawyers, electricians, contractors, and stay at home moms. It was area hospital administrators and business owners, who might normally be competitors, coming together to achieve something greater for all. It was volunteers who were willing to give of their time and talents knowing that the impact made by their efforts would make a lasting imprint on this area that had never been seen before.

It all started with Virginia Bisbee. After struggling with the care of a loved one who was dying, she contacted Dr. Robert Guthrie, a local radiologist who would later design and open the first Cancer Treatment Center in Waterloo, about options for end of life care. Dr. Guthrie also believed that there was a better way to handle care for both patients AND families – and he introduced the concept of hospice which was just being initiated in the United States. He pulled together some of the best grassroots volunteers around and Karol Rae Hoth took the helm as the leader to get the ball rolling.

Karol knew that introducing the concept to the area and the state of Iowa meant education first. She headed up the efforts to bring a symposium to the University of Northern Iowa which featured Dr. Josefina Magno, who was the first chair of the National Hospice Organization, as the keynote speaker. Josefina’s message was simple – hospice asks the questions, ‘What can I do for you, and how can I help?”

After the symposium, Karol and her team went to work forming the base of support that would be needed to bring a hospice to the Cedar Valley. The Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area and the surrounding 30-mile radius was the original service area. The committee began by researching what other parts of the country were doing, and began to establish standards of care that could be used in developing the hospice. It wasn’t long before the plans were in place.

After the hospice concept was brought forth, funding needed to be put in place, and that brought with it the necessity for different volunteer skills and learning how to ask for thing things they wanted and needed so that they could begin to hire staff and start to serve more patients and families. There were no health care requirements for hospice as there are today, and the needs and requests of patients didn’t have to rely on certification or approvals.

There were many twists and turns in the road — it wasn’t an easy journey. The volunteers were trained in the concepts needed and passionate about their efforts but getting people to acknowledge what hospice care was – an acceptance of death and a change in philosophy from healing to helping – was a challenging task at times.

More volunteers were recruited, and non-profit status was established allowing for fundraising to become a central focus to cover the costs of care for patients. Paid staff needed to be hired, and as the organization grew – different professional skills were needed from employees and additional staff were hired to handle things outside of the clinical needs.

In the 80’s, a partnership with Schoitz Medical Center resulted in the opening of a small inpatient unit at their location on Kimball Avenue is Waterloo so that patients and families in those final stages of life could be in a homelike setting with special care for those who were dying.

The first Friends of Cedar Valley Hospice committee was formed, which would sustain the work of the organization throughout the years by assisting with fundraising efforts and Cedar Valley Hospice became one of 12 hospices in the nation to gain Medicare certification. This accomplishment most certainly put the organization on the map and allowed for the vast growth needed to adequately serve their new patients. This brought the need to hire the organization’s first full-time Executive Director and more staff to cover the needs of those being served. As the organization grew, other community issues ushered in the development of additional programs. The AIDS crisis ignited the development of the Cedar AIDS Support System and the formation of grief programs for both adults and children provided needed community services to those dealing with grief.

Neighboring communities had accomplished similar strides in providing hospice care powered by local volunteers’ efforts with the same passion. As regulations were introduced, services became more complex, it became clear that a plan was needed to ensure hospice care would efficiently and effectively be carried out for all. Cedar Valley Hospice merged with Bremer/Butler Hospice, Grundy County Hospice and Hospice of Buchanan County to better serve all of the counties surrounding the Cedar Valley and hundreds more were able to be cared for annually with this growth with all hospices sharing the name Cedar Valley Hospice and becoming one entity.

Cedar Valley Hospice eventually decided to build their very own Hospice Home and Covenant Hospital donated a former doctor’s office for the development. Community volunteers stepped in again and 1.7 million dollars was raised, to complete the home which opened its doors in 2000. Bringing the story full circle, the first patient to die in the Cedar Valley Hospice Home at 2001 Kimball Avenue, where it still sits today, was Virginia Bisbee, the woman who first spoke with Dr. Robert Guthrie about the concept of hospice.

KWWL’s Abby Turpin emceed the 2019 Red Carpet Nights

The building of the Hospice Home wasn’t the only major fundraising project for Cedar Valley Hospice. During the 25th anniversary year $500,000 was raised in a special “Lead the Way with Care” campaign and to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Hospice Home, a facelift was done on the property after raising another $500,000 through the “Continuing the Journey” campaign.

In more recent years Cedar Valley Hospice has seen the introduction of music therapy and LINK palliative care. Cedar Valley Hospice has been chosen to pilot national programs, including the Caring Connections, We Honor Veterans and Medicare Care Choices Model.

Staff members have had leadership roles with the Hospice and Palliative Care Organization of Iowa and have been involved in helping to shape hospice friendly legislation in support of better funding and services for patients and families. And they are continually recognized as some of the areas finest clinical staff, both locally and in the state of Iowa.

As an employer, Cedar Valley Hospice has been named as one of the top places to work in the Cedar Valley and has consistently been recognized as a “best of the best” in several different categories in the Courier’s Annual competitions.

Needless to say, how fortunate the Cedar Valley is to have the compassionate services Cedar Valley Hospice offers their clients and their families.

After the organization’s history was shared during the event, Michaela Vandersee, the Executive Director, spoke, followed by Chris Olds.  The evening ended with a live auction and music.

Learn more about Cedar Valley Hospice on their website.

KWWL congratulates and thanks Cedar Valley Hospice for 40 years.

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