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Family praises Almost Home during special month

Justin Van Meter, Rozel, knew his wife needed more than he and their sons could give. She was facing the end of her life and the family needed hospice care.

Once they realized this, Justin followed up on a recommendation to visit with Leilani Schenkel, R.N., executive director at Almost Home Inc. The Great Bend residence at 1919 Van Buren designates two rooms for end-of-life care.

Justin and his sons, Spencer, 19, and Harrison, 17, shared their Almost Home experience in observance of National Hospice & Palliative Care Month in November. Their wife and mother, Darcey, passed away Oct. 8, 2015, from colon cancer at age 45; she taught second grade at Pawnee Heights.

Darcey spent the last two weeks of her life at Almost Home; the colon-cancer diagnosis was made about three years earlier.

“I saw what was being done for her at Newton Medical Center. I knew we couldn’t do this at home and didn’t want our family to go through it alone,” Justin recalled. “The staff at Newton led us here; I couldn’t be more grateful.

“We had two children active in school; Darcey didn’t want our lives to stop,” he added. “She wanted us to keep doing things we would normally do.”

Justin knew at the outset that his family made the right decision and would recommend Almost Home “in a heartbeat. Leilani and the staff are very caring. She sat down with me when we first got here and took care of the paperwork. And then I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. That was a huge relief.”

Spencer, who attends Butler Community College, and his brother, Harrison, who attends Pawnee Heights High School, also praise Almost Home and its staff.

“Mom’s care was excellent in every way you can imagine,” Spencer said. “While mom was conscious, the nurses were right there to see if she needed anything. If she was sleeping, they were always checking on her.”

Spencer noted that his mom believed in God “and her faith was important to her. Leilani is a person of faith too. We could rely on our faith to get the answers we needed. This made the grieving easier to digest.

“Leilani kept us in the loop about how the disease was progressing,” he added. “It was not easy, but she did it with grace.”

The Van Meter family noted that when they suggested a candlelight vigil, Almost Home accommodated. More than 50 people attended in the backyard.

An added benefit, they commented, is the Retreat House on the Almost Home property.

Harrison said this “gave us a place to relax as much as we could. Sometimes you just have to get away and think for yourself. We will always be grateful.

“The staff always greeted us at the door and told us anything we needed to know,” Harrison continued. “We knew Leilani was busy but she always had time for us. Almost Home is so comfortable, warm and inviting.”

The Van Meters said they will continue their “lasting relationship with Leilani.”


Before Almost Home

Sheryl Cheely, an Almost Home board member, said she wishes the residence had been available to her and her husband, Ray, when he needed end-of-life care in 2009.

“We had hospice in our home for one week,” Cheely recalled. “But I was in the role of caregiver and had no idea what I was doing. It falls on the family to do almost everything. My expectations were different from the actual services provided in our home.

“If Almost Home had been here, we would have had a totally different experience. I would have had time to say good-bye to my husband. I wasn’t able to be with him emotionally. At Almost Home you can focus on your loved one.”

Cheely described an especially bad time: Ray’s oxygen tank malfunctioned and medication issues arose, both in the middle of the night. The nurse was 90 minutes away.

“And to top it off, the air conditioning went out,” Cheely said. “Because I have a great network of friends, we were able to deal with these problems. But many people don’t have this luxury.”

Before Almost Home opened, anyone who wanted in-patient hospice care had to go out of town. “And we didn’t want to do that,” Cheely recalled. “If Almost Home had been here, I would still have spent most of my time with Ray. But I would have had the opportunity for a few breaks. He would have been in the care of professional and compassionate nurses and aides.”

Leilani Schenkel noted that even though Almost Home provides 24-hour care to hospice residents in two separate rooms, it also works in conjunction with two licensed hospice agencies. The team includes the patient’s physicians, clergy and social workers.

“Families can be families here; they don’t have to be the main caregivers. This is a huge relief for everyone,” she said.

Schenkel also noted the difference between palliative care and hospice. Palliative care begins at diagnosis and the start of treatment. Hospice begins after treatment when it is clear the disease is terminal.

Almost Home also offers full-time residency, adult daycare and respite. For more information, contact Schenkel by calling 620-617-1634.