Our Story

The History of Hospice of the Foothills

hospice of the foothills, northern california

Mission & Milestones

The history of Hospice of the Foothills closely mirrors the growth of the national hospice movement which was officially recognized in the United States by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. At that time, all hospices, nation-wide, were serving just several thousand patients and families annually. Today, our country’s hospices are serving more than 1.5 million patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families each year. Hospice of the Foothills serves more than 500 patients and families each year, most in their own homes in western Nevada County and surrounding communities. For those who cannot be cared for in their own homes, Hospice of the Foothills also cares for patients in skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities.

Formative Years and Vision

Like most early hospice care providers, Hospice of the Foothills began as an all volunteer organization providing services to communities in Nevada and Placer counties. For several years, following incorporation in Auburn, CA in 1979, care was provided to patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families by a small volunteer staff comprised of several nurses and lay respite-givers led by a part-time executive director.

The early vision for the organization, as defined by its first Board of Directors, was to develop a program to meet the unique needs of terminally ill patients and their families by providing care and support through the patient’s death and the family’s bereavement period. One of the goals was to enable the patient to remain in his/her own home surrounded by familiar possessions and loved ones.

The availability of hospice care in the patient’s home was gratefully welcomed by dozens of families throughout the region to such an extent that, by early 1981, the small cadre of volunteer staff was overwhelmed by increasing requests for services and the great distances that must be traveled to reach their patients’ homes. The service area was simply too large and the required personnel and resources too limited. And so, in February, 1981, Hospice of the Foothills moved its headquarters to Grass Valley, CA, focusing its services on the needs of patients and families in western Nevada County.

Growing Up

By the late 1980’s, with the patient census steadily increasing, it became clear that Hospice of the Foothills needed to advance to a new level of professional personnel and practice. Thanks to the charitable resources generated by Friends of Hospice events and community support and memorials, in 1988, Hospice hired its first full-time RN, half-time social worker, and full-time executive director. The opening of two Hospice of the Foothills’ Gift & Thrift Stores – the first in Nevada City in 1991, and the second in Penn Valley in 1993 – increased the organization’s operational revenues making possible the continuing recruitment and hiring of professional staff as well as the ongoing expansion of programs and services.

These advancements were the precursors of a major shift in Hospice of the Foothills’ institutional status when, in 1994, the organization transitioned from a free standing, volunteer based, independent hospice care provider to a Medicare certified Hospice Agency and then, in 1995, was licensed by the State of California. This change of status resulted in a significant spurt of growth in patients, personnel and programs, the latter of which included formalized bereavement and spiritual care and volunteer services.

The role of respite volunteers is an essential component of Hospice of the Foothills provision of patient care. As part of the Hospice interdisciplinary care team composed of the medical director, nurses, social workers, and spiritual and bereavement counselors, respite volunteers bring a host of expertise, experience, and talents to the bedsides of patients and the homes of families. In 2011, 474 volunteers gave more than 33,000 hours of service to patients, their families, and our community, enhancing the quality of their lives and extending Hospice’s circle of care. In addition the Hospice-sponsored Transitions program provides supportive care through community resources and referral coordination and volunteer support for underserved patients with a one year prognosis.

A Home for Hospice

In late 2001, perceiving the need for an in-patient facility to care for patients with a life limiting illness who could not be cared for in their own homes, Hospice of the Foothills Board of Directors appointed a facility planning committee to explore the potential of a hospice home in Nevada County. By mid 2002, the Board and Hospice leadership was committed to its vision for a hospice residence, had a feasibility study conducted, and in April, 2003, launched a 5-year capital campaign to raise the funds needed to build the facility.

Construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2007. In November, 2008, Contractor Keoni Allen of Sierra Foothills Construction handed over the keys to Executive Director Dennis Fournier and the clinical and administrative staff moved into the Dawn R. Lester In-Home Services Center.

New Executive Leadership

Also in November, 2008, executive director Dennis Fournier retired after leading the organization for 18 years. Hospice of the Foothills Board of Directors appointed Vanessa Bengston, RN, CPHQ, as his successor. Bengston served Hospice of the Foothills for more than seven years, during which time she oversaw the opening of the 12 bed Compassionate Care Home. Following Bengston’s retirement in October 2015, new executive leadership of the organization was assumed by Carolynn Peterson , RN, MSN, AOCN, CHPCA in February, 2015. Peterson, former Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer of Community Hospice, Modesto, CA, and a registered nurse, has over two decades of being a hospice leader. She is the current president of the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association and serves on numerous advisory panels and medical boards.

Advancing the Mission of Hospice of the Foothills

In 2009, Hospice of the Foothills observed its 30th anniversary, celebrating the milestones that marked the organization’s evolution from a small all volunteer staff to the interdisciplinary, professional care team of today. In addition to enhanced and expanded programs and services to Western Nevada County and surrounding communities, Hospice of the Foothills continues to raise the bar on professional standards and practices among its staff and within the regional healthcare community. With a focus on community outreach, collaborations and partnerships are being advanced and encouraged through Hospice-sponsored educational end-of-life programs and training. Every advance in Hospice of the Foothills’ mission produces a higher quality of care and enhanced programs and services for the benefit of the patients, their loved ones, and the community – in their own homes and in ours.

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