RiverStone Hospice Celebrates Past, Looks to Its Future

by Zach Benoit
Photos by Bronte Wittpenn

Since it first opened in October 2011, RiverStone Health Hospice Home has cared for more than 760 patients and hundreds, if not thousands, more family members.

Last fall, RiverStone officials, hospice employees and others marked those five years and hundreds of patients at an anniversary gathering that provided them the chance to reflect on what the home has provided and how it came to be.

“It’s that human compassion and having that same person taking care of you week after week, and they become almost like family,” said Monica Schaff, a registered nurse and supervisor at the home.

More than 90 percent of people receiving hospice care do so in their own homes, but the RiverStone home, which is the only inpatient hospice within 200 miles of Billings, provides 24/7 end-of-life care for people in its own 8,400-square-foot, 12-bedroom facility on Billings’ West End near Shiloh Boulevard and Poly Drive.

Many of the residents are there — it’s full about 60-70 percent of the time — because their families aren’t able to provide the care they need, they don’t have any place else to go or they need extra care that the home setting can provide.

Speaking during the gathering, RiverStone President and CEO John Felton said he’s proud of the quality of life, care and comfort it delivers to residents and their families and of its acceptance of residents regardless of their ability to pay. “They simply need the care,” he said. “That’s our only determining factor.”

Violinist Hank Rose plays in front of RiverStone Hospice Home off Shiloh Road in Billings last fall. The hospice home celebrated its fifth anniversary of providing care to terminally ill patients.

Violinist Hank Rose plays in front of RiverStone Hospice Home off Shiloh Road in Billings last fall. The hospice home celebrated its fifth anniversary of providing care to terminally ill patients.

The home is staffed at all times by three staff members and an RN and employs 17 people total. The average patient stay is 20-25 days, but has been as short as an hour or two and as long as several years.

Susan Barton, director of home care and hospice services, said that it is set up to be a home-like environment for the patients and that it accommodates their families, as well as providing help and resources for up to 13 months after a loved one has passed away.

“It’s helped so many people and it’s such an important part of the community,” she said.

Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said that too often, a person’s last weeks or months can be spent in pain and suffering. Hospice can make those days much more comfortable, he said.

“Longevity without vitality, without the quality, is vastly overrated,” he said. “What we need as humans is to spend our last days …living in as high a quality as possible, to spend our last days in dignity, in comfort and in peace. What a wonderful gift you have given them.”

RiverStone has been accredited for hospice by the Community Health Accreditation Partner since 2002 and formed a committee later to run a fundraising campaign to build the $2.6 million hospice home.

“They’ve left an indelible mark on our community that we’re here celebrating five years later,” Felton said. “I’m sure in 45 more years, we’ll be here celebrating 50.”

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