Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death–Hospice Seeks to Include Younger Adults

“Everybody dies,” Heart of the Redwoods’ board member, Joe Whitney explains as he talks about why the Southern Humboldt’s hospice organization is attempting to reach out to younger adults and include them in its fundraisers and among its donors.

“I realize young people have big expenses with young families,” says Whitney.   However, he says, “Their parents will be needing us and the young people will, too.”

Whitney notes that majority of the Southern Humboldt Hospice organization’s funding comes from donations provided by adults over the age of 40.  Yet, he believes that many younger people may need the services provided by Heart of the Redwoods. “People get sick when they are younger, too,” he explains “and [young people] need grief support” when their parents and friends die.

Becky Crossland age 40 of the Miranda area dealt with the death of her mother with the help of Heart of the Redwoods a little over a year ago.  “For me,” said Crossland, “because I was younger, I hadn’t dealt with someone who was dying–yes, quick deaths like car crashes–but, with my mom, we knew she was going to die for awhile.”  Hospice,  Crossland explained, helped keep her from feeling overwhelmed with her mother’s passing.  “For me,” she said, “it was like the difference between seeing a huge mountain and finding a path through the mountains.”  The caregivers helped her break the almost overwhelming experience into manageable parts.

Crossland said, “I had to deal with going to chemo, I had to deal with the fact she was going to die, I had to deal with my kids knowing their grandmother was going to die, I had to deal with my mom dealing with her death.”  Hospice assisted her in finding support systems and helped her themselves. “I knew,” she explained, “that no matter what I wouldn’t be by myself.  Someone would be there to help me.”

In fact, Crossland was surprised to learn that there was so much assistance in the rural area of Southern Humboldt.  She said that “some of my neighbors were involved with hospice and could help.” 

Unfortunately, the local hospice is unable to get funding from Medicare because Heart of the Redwoods provides services for people that Medicare deems ineligible. For instance, Medicare says that treatment can only start after someone is diagnosed as being terminal within six months.  If after six months, the patient hasn’t died, they are no longer eligible for services.  According to Whitney, Heart of the Redwoods thinks that this is inappropriate. Also, he says, “We don’t feel that people should have to be terminal [to get services.]  People get old and frail” and he believes that they still need and deserve help. 

In addition, Medicare will only provide funding for hospices that work within a certain radius.  But Heart of the Redwoods provides for patients in an area that ranges from south of Fortuna, east to Trinity County, west to the ocean, and into Northern Mendocino.  “We cover a thousand square miles,” Whitney explained.  Heart of the Redwoods even covers patients who live inside of another hospice’s radius–because the patients live on dirt roads, they are ineligible to receive services from the other organization.

These additional services not only cut Heart of the Redwoods off from Medicare funding but cost money.  And, in the last few years, fundraising efforts haven’t reached the normal levels.  Every year, Whitney says, the hospice tries to raise $120,000 but they fell $21,000 short this last year.  “All our fundraisers were well attended but we just didn’t get the same amount of money,” he said.

There are many ways that people can help according to Whitney.  “We need practical volunteers–people willing to mow somebody’s lawn or pick up a prescription.”  Or, he says, people can sit with patients.  “Primarily,” he said though, “we need financial support….The deficit at the end of the year has caused us to have to cut back.  The office is only open four days instead of five.  We’ve had to consolidate positions.”

Heart of the Redwoods is looking for creative solutions.  They are trying to work with the Southern Humboldt Hospital to become part of the a possible new visiting nurse program and they are planning on adding a new fundraising event–a Great Gatsby dance party in May.  They have hired Amie McClellan to work as a grant writer to help pay part of the overhead costs also.

But Whitney says, “We rely on donations and when donations are down, the community suffers.”  He quotes the organization’s mission statement, “Heart of the Redwoods Community Hospice provides education, empowerment, and support to patients, their families, and the community throughout the dying and grieving process.”  He says that part of the Circle of Care that this hospice tries to provide comes from the community as a whole working together.  He says that young adults are missing from that circle. He believes the hospice needs their help to provide for clients which may include their parents or grandparents or even possibly themselves. 

Crossland agrees.  She said, “People who are my age, we’re completely unfamiliar with that territory”–with the process of dying.  According to her, Heart of the Redwoods provided a guide through the hard journey of her mother’s passing.

Joe Whitney believes that younger adults may find themselves needing Heart of the Redwoods sooner than they think. Hospice needs them now but young adults will also come to need the organization eventually.

“A strong hospice is a sign of a strong community,” Whitney states firmly.   He asks that people follow the Heart of the Redwoods’ Facebook page (here)by clicking ‘Like’ so that they can stay abreast of events.

People wishing to donate now can go their Website at and click the donate link in the upper right corner.


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