Photo by Lauren Denos, AdventureBoundMedia.com.
When a parent or family member develops a terminal illness, it is devastating to think of losing your loved one. Individuals will go through a wide range of emotions, and difficult decisions will be made. Often someone in the family will need to leave the workforce to take care of their loved one and family full time. This can become an immensely stressful time for everyone involved, and it’s the goal of the Schneidmiller House to help alleviate that stress so families can spend the precious time remaining with the ones you love so deeply.
Opened in 2011 and run by Hospice of North Idaho, the Schneidmiller House is a place designed to make a care facility feel more like home. The home provides 24-hour care to terminally ill patients whose care and treatments cannot be managed in their home. While not a long-term care or nursing home facility, the staff does provide both inpatient care for weeks or months at a time as well as respite care, which is roughly a five-day stay intended to give caregivers a bit of relief before resuming their full-time care duties back in the home.
“When caregivers come to us here, they are often so tired and stressed that they can’t let go,” explained social worker Kelly Hurt. “Once they meet our staff and earn our trust and are able to let go, you can see the difference, and it allows them to just be there for their family member.” Hurt is just one of several staff members who include registered nurses, physicians and certified hospice aids. There is also a group of volunteers that go above and beyond when it comes to helping not just with administrative work but visiting with patients as well. Volunteers Tom and Carl are both retired military, and when a patient comes in who is also military, they will often put on their dress uniforms and present the veteran with a specialized plaque.
The Schneidmiller house can accommodate up to 14 patients at a time. Rooms have a moveable bed, attached bathroom, TV, mini-fridge and foldable furniture for family to sleep on, and all have back patios that open up to the beautiful backyard gardens. “We wanted a design where there are plenty of places for family members to sit and talk,” said House Director Cindy Reed. Between several sitting areas, there is also a great room, meditation room and family activity/kids room. When dealing with the illness of a grandparent, one might think that children might not be brought around often or are unable to emotionally handle the situation, but the staff says it’s actually quite the opposite.
“We give them age-appropriate information on what is happening, and we find they do much better with that than being excluded,” said Reed. “We have a bereavement coordinator who can speak to kids one on one or in groups, other counseling and activities in the family room like coloring books and videos to make things easier,” said Hurt.
An often overlooked aspect of end-of-life care is how much stress is put on the caregivers. While the individual is battling for their lives, the caretaker is often not only having to provide everything they do in their daily life, but are now tasked with the full-time care of a loved one as well. The Schneidmiller House recognizes this and looks at many ways to help alleviate this burden from the family. “People will often come in here for the first time and say, ‘This is not at all what I thought it would be; it’s peaceful and beautiful here.’ That makes me feel good when I see that burden is lifted off of them,” said Hurt. The short-term respite care is a way to give caregivers a break by allowing hospice staff to manage symptoms so the daily caregiver can focus on just being family for a few days. “When a patient and caretaker go home, they don’t go back alone. We give them resources for in-home care, help from CNAs and volunteers as well,” said Reed.
As you stroll around the grounds you’ll find beautifully landscaped gardens where families can pick fresh flowers to place in their loved one’s room. Artwork on the walls has all been donated as have quilts made by local quilting clubs and individuals. It’s because of these small donations, as well as large donations of time and materials from contractors, that helped create an even more beautiful and safe place than the original budget allowed for.
“When people come in for the first time, it’s initially the beauty of the building that grabs their attention, but soon they notice how well they are taken care of, and that’s what makes the experience unique,” said Reed. “This feels like a safe place, and we are comfortable about talking about death, end of life, spirituality, and family can open up and talk to us about whatever they need to here,” said Hurt.
A terminally ill diagnosis is heartbreaking for all involved. The thought of losing a loved one is painful but knowing there is a place in our community where both the terminally ill and those closest to them can focus on each other instead of the treatment is a true blessing.