Note: In December, a plaque was posted in the Cedar Valley Hospice Independence office to pay special tribute to longtime advocate and the founder of the first hospice in Independence, Dorothy Burkhart. Her story is below.
By Stephanie Abel Hohenzy
Hospice began in Independence with the dream of a mother.
When Dorothy Burkhart held the hand of her only daughter, Lynn, for the final time in July 1978, it changed her life. It bothered her that at the age of 35, Lynn would not see her two children grow or live life by her husband’s side. As Lynn’s main caregiver, it was difficult to watch her body go through the final stages of breast cancer. It wasn’t until she traveled to her Florida home and volunteered for a hospice there, that she learned the value and comfort such a program could offer terminally ill patients and their families.
Upon her return to Independence, she set out on a mission – to start a local hospice. She didn’t want another family to ever have to go through life’s most difficult stage alone. Her son, Brooks, remembers how “fired up” she was, which, he adds, wasn’t uncommon for his mother when she set her mind to something. She started talking to friends and enlisted their help to gather support in the community.
“She went right to the town’s prominent family physicians, Dr. Myers and Dr. Mochal, and their wives and said flat out, ‘We are going to start a hospice.’ When my mother asked for something, you didn’t turn her down,” says Brooks.
Dorothy often went door to door asking for donations but raising money was difficult at first since the concept of hospice was generally foreign to most. Although there had been only a few contributions, in 1982, a Board of Directors was formed. So, in a number of meetings headquartered in Dick and Kitty Myers’ backyard, the Myers, Mochals, Dorothy and others started Buchanan County Hospice. These community pioneers often contributed their own funds at meetings to carry out the work of the new organization.
Thanks to Bob Richards, the administrator at People’s Memorial Hospital at the time, office space was opened for the endeavor. The hospital also provided a hospice in-patient room, which was furnished with a home-like setting thanks to a generous memorial gift from the Orval Shatzer family of Jesup, following his death.
A coordinator was hired in 1983 and the first training program took place in 1984. One year later, the organization cared for its first patient. In the following years, the organization grew, gaining more support. Dorothy then went out and found more resources to begin to train volunteers to help patients’ families. By 1989, they had trained volunteers numbering far more than their patient load. They then started a program called Project Love to provide respite care for the chronically ill – providing caregivers with much-needed support when their loved ones aren’t hospice eligible or ready for hospice.
In 1991, Hospice of Buchanan County was able to look at expanding its offices and services thanks to a bequest from Cecilia (Slater) Pochedly. However, as hospice grew, they realized that more services could be provided to patients if they were Medicare certified. With that in mind, negotiations began with Cedar Valley Hospice, and an agreement was signed in 1992. Drs. Myer and Mochal stepped up again, donating their office building on First Street East, where Cedar Valley Hospice currently resides.
Dorothy remained involved as a volunteer over the years and was a valued donor. She enjoyed watching the hospice she helped start, prosper to include not only Buchanan county but Fayette, Delaware, Linn and Benton.
Since then, over 1,000 families have been served, including Dorothy’s husband, Dwight, in 1996, and Dorothy, who passed away on Sept. 2 at the age of 99.
Brooks and his wife, Hildegard, are so grateful to Cedar Valley Hospice and the support they provided for his mother. Team physician Dr. Duane Jasper was also an instrumental part of the care team.
“Jasper didn’t waste any time, he knew it was the right moment for my mother to be placed in hospice care,” says Brooks. “Cedar Valley Hospice showed up within a few hours. I will never forget our nurse, Jean. She was excellent. The knowledge and caring she had made all the difference for my mother and for us. We knew we could leave because hospice was there.”
Dorothy had struggled with a constant restlessness for weeks. This all changed when Cedar Valley Hospice became involved, says Hildegard.
“The Cedar Valley Hospice Nurse was the only one that could calm her down. It was wonderful,” Hildegard adds. “She advised us how to talk to Dorothy to help bring her peace…telling her that she was going to see her Lynnie, which, when other conversation failed, she would nod and relax.”
“Cedar Valley Hospice takes all the guesswork out of caring for your loved one,” adds Brooks. “We know how it started and have seen them in action…they are the experts…How could it be done any better?”
Dorothy’s dream came true. No family has to be alone at the end of a loved one’s journey and throughout their bereavement.
Hildegard looks at a photo of Dorothy and a tear rolls down her face, “Lynn would be proud.”