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 is a non-profit 501(c)(3) serving more than 500 patients and families, most in their own homes, in western Nevada County and surrounding communities.

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 and services to meet the unique needs of terminally ill patients and their families by providing continuous 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 for as long as possible 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 and the surrounding communities.

Friends of Hospice

Concurrent with the organization’s relocation to Grass Valley came the realization that the early vision for continuous care and support of patients and families could not be sustained by volunteers and occasional fund raisers alone. Retired nurse and early Hospice of the Foothills board member Pat Chargin witnessed the all-volunteer group struggling for survival. Recognizing the need for intensive fund raising, Pat took action by placing an ad in the local newspaper and mailing out a plea to all of her friends for participation in a fund raising auxiliary. In 1981, the result of her efforts was the formation of Friends of Hospice, the event fund raising auxiliary for Hospice of the Foothills. Over the years, the events undertaken by Friends of Hospice to benefit the programs and services of Hospice of the Foothills have been enormously successful. Some of them, like Breakfast in the Park and Tree of Love, have become community traditions.

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. In 1994, the organization transitioned from a free standing, independent hospice care provider to a Medicare certified Hospice Agency and 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 programs and the addition of Hospice-sponsored Transitions providing, for the first time, case management and support for underserved patients with a one year prognosis.

At the same time, the role of respite volunteers began to emerge as an essential component of Hospice of the Foothills provision of patient care. Augmenting Hospice’s interdisciplinary care team composed of the medical director, nurses, social workers, and spiritual and bereavement counselors, respite volunteers bring a diversity of expertise, experience, and talents to the bedsides of patients and the homes of families. In 2012/13, respite volunteers gave more than 25,000 hours of service to patients and families, enhancing the quality of their lives and extending Hospice’s circle of care.

A Home for Hospice

In late 2001, perceiving the need for an in-patient facility to care for terminally ill patients 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 an in-patient hospice residence in Nevada County. By mid-2002, the Board and Hospice leadership, 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 in June 2007 with a groundbreaking ceremony at 11270 Rough & Ready Highway, just west of downtown Grass Valley. Throughout the construction period, staff and volunteers conducted hard hat tours at the building site to encourage community support for the project. In November 2008, contractor Keoni Allen of Sierra Foothills Construction handed over the keys to Executive Director Dennis Fournier. Shortly thereafter, the clinical and administrative staff moved into the In-Home Services wing of the facility. 

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 immediate past-president of the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association and serves on numerous advisory panels and medical boards.

The Compassionate Care Home

The Compassionate Care Home opened on July 27, 2010, following 18 months of rigorous, meticulous preparation for State licensing and Medicare certification. Care in the 12-bed home exceeded the expectations of patients and their families. In addition to the comprehensive care and support patients and families received from Hospice’s interdisciplinary care team, amenities such as the family pantry, extensive library, and children’s corner, and the availability of Wi-Fi and cable television provided a welcome sense of comfort and respite. Unfortunately, the Compassionate Care Home had an average daily census of 3 patients.  January 1, 2016 the Compassionate Care Home was closed.  In the five years it was open, it lost approximately $5,000,000.  The decision was made to close the house and continue to focus on providing care for those patients in their homes, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living facilities.

Advancing the Mission of Hospice of the Foothills

In 2013, Hospice of the Foothills observed its 34th anniversary, marking the milestones of 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, 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. Through generous gifts such as the 2011 Joseph & Vera Long Foundation grant, Hospice of the Foothills is developing new programs such as advanced care planning to more effectively meet the needs of the community. Every advance in Hospice of the Foothills’ mission produces a higher quality of care and enhanced programs and services for the benefit of our patients, their loved ones, and the community – in their own homes and in ours.

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