Isabella Snodgrass, a nurse at the Hospice of East Texas inpatient facility HomePlace, didn't know what to think when a horse trailer pulled into the front drive of the organization's main building.
As it turned out, the animal's owner was under hospice care at the facility and wanted to see his large, four-legged friend one last time. It was a request the organization was happy to accommodate. After all, pets are allowed.
So the animal was unloaded and brought around to the porch of the man's room where the two were able to say goodbye.
This is one of the ways in which Hospice of East Texas strives to provide outstanding end-of-life care to the residents of East Texas and their families. The organization is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
“We want to be a blueprint for exceptional end-of-life care,” said Marjorie Ream, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization. “We specialize in providing end-of-life care that enhances the quality of life rather than the quantity.”
The organization does this by addressing patients' spiritual, emotional and physical concerns, and each year helps more than 2,000 East Texas families, said Nancy Lamar, vice president of community relations for the organization.
Sandie Propst of Tyler is a member of one such family and has seen the care of HOET first hand.
Mrs. Propst helped start HOET in the '80s, she had no idea that one day she would use the services she was helping to create.
However, hospice has helped bring peace of mind to Mrs. Propst and her family three times over the years during the death of her father, mother-in-law and most recently her mother.
“I know what it (hospice care) meant for me when my parents were in the last months of their lives,” Mrs. Propst said. “I was especially grateful for the support from people who understand this emotional side of life.”
More than 1.5 million people received hospice services in 2010, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. This means that approximately 42 percent of deaths in the United States occurred under the care of hospice programs.
“Our philosophy is that death is not something we should be afraid of,” Ms. Lamar said. “It's a part of life that we all need to come to accept. Hospice, as caregivers and supporters, can help patients and families have a comfortable end of life experience.”
Today there are more than 5,000 hospice programs in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Evelyn Lake, with the help of the Junior League of Tyler, started HOET following a visit to a friend under hospice care in Arizona, Ms. Lamar said. After seeing the care her friend received, Lake made it her mission to bring the same services to her community in East Texas.
After researching hospice services for two years, the Junior League of Tyler decided to donate $30,000 — its largest donation at the time — to launch the area's first hospice organization and one of the first few in the state.
Mrs. Propst headed up the research efforts for the league and later served as the chair of the founding board and the organization's first board of directors.
“The word hospice was virtually unknown in those days and most people didn't understand what it was,” Mrs. Propst said. “I would talk with anyone who would stand still about hospice. I had such a passion for it and was so relieved when it was passed by the league.”
In the beginning HOET only offered services in Smith County but now serves 23 counties covering 15,000 miles. The size of its patient population ranks HOET among the top 4.5 percent of hospices in the country, according to HOET.
“I can't imagine Tyler and East Texas without the Hospice of East Texas,” Mrs. Propst said. “It's almost funny to think about what we dreamed about back then. Our dreams were so small compared to the reality it's has become.”
However, HOET is one of the first hospices in Texas to offer an inpatient facility as well, she said.
Ms. Snodgrass has worked at HomePlace, the inpatient facility, for three years. She decided to join the HOET team after her husband died under hospice care in 2002.
“It's a place that people can bring their loved one and it's a place where they can feel like they are at home because we are very family-oriented,” Ms. Snodgrass said. “We make them feel comfortable with what's going on with their loved one, and then at the same time we make their loved one comfortable. We can't take away the pain and sorrow of death, but we can make it easier.”
Hospice services are of no direct cost to the patient and their families, Lamar said. Instead the organization bills Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies and fund costs through private fundraising.
“We have a longstanding commitment to provide care to anybody who needs it regardless of their financial circumstances or their life situation,” she said. “Also, because we are a nonprofit and we have 30 years of a great reputation, we have been very blessed with community support.”
Anyone can refer someone for hospice care, and Ms. Lamar encourages them to call sooner rather than later.
“I think a lot of people think that hospice is for the last three weeks of life,” Ms. Lamar said. “But generally hospice care if for patients with six months to a year. Nobody wants to say it's time, but there are so many things that our team can do if we have time to really get involved.”
For those who have suffered a loss of a loved one, whether under hospice care or not, the organization offers grief support programs, workshops and support groups free of charge throughout East Texas.
“Death does come suddenly and unexpectedly and tragically and people don't get a chance to say goodbye,” Ms. Lamar said. “They don't get a chance to say I'm sorry, a chance to say I forgive you. They don't get a chance to say all those things, so if you get a chance to do that and to have some say in the terms of how you end your life it can be a great blessing. That's what we are all about.”
The organization will hold its official 30th anniversary celebration on Oct. 4 at 11:30 a.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center.