Hospice of the Red River Valley set to begin construction on North Dakota’s first hospice house
The opening of North Dakota's first and only hospice house has taken decades of planning, but Hospice of the Red River Valley executive director Tracee Capron said it took time to do it right. “We wanted to make sure that it is sustainable long into the future,” she told The Forum.
FARGO — After nearly 20 years of work, Hospice of the Red River Valley will soon begin construction on North Dakota’s first hospice house.
It’s been decades worth of work, but Hospice of the Red River Valley Executive Director Tracee Capron told The Forum Friday, May 20, that HRRV’s board, donors and staff came to the conclusion that the time was right to bring the vision to life. A groundbreaking ceremony for the hospice house will take place Thursday, May 26, at 3800 56th Ave. S. in Fargo.
The hospice house, Capron explained, is a place for families to gather with hospice patients in a tranquil, comfortable setting. Essentially a “hospital in disguise,” the hospice house serves as a place where family and loved ones can gather in a place that feels like home rather than a sterile hospital environment. “You’re taking a lot of the medical things of a hospital and disguising them into a home,” Capron said.
In most cases, patients will be able to occupy one of the hospice house’s 18 rooms for five days and five nights to receive end of life care. Capron described the hospice house as a “stepping stone” which allows patients to transition from hospital care back to wherever they call home. The hospice house can also be used when care simply cannot be managed in a home environment.
While some patients may ultimately pass away in the hospice house, for others it offers a chance to get their symptoms under control and stabilized to the point that they may return home safely to live out their final days. For those who qualify, a stay in the hospice house will come at no additional cost thanks to insurance or Medicare benefits.
A long time coming
Hospice of the Red River Valley has been considering creating a hospice house for nearly 20 years.
The reason planning for the hospice house, which will be fully donor-funded, took so long is because Hospice of the Red River Valley wanted to do it right. That meant strengthening the nonprofit’s infrastructure and financial foundation. “We wanted to make sure that it is sustainable long into the future,” Capron said.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the timeline as well, Capron explained.
During the peak of the pandemic, many patients had to die alone without having their loved ones by their side. Had the hospice house existed then, that pain could have been avoided. “Nobody would have had to die alone,” Capron said.
Visitation restrictions during the pandemic cut off the connection between patients and families. At the hospice house, this could have been avoided because each room has private access and direct access to the outdoors. “Not having, in particular during COVID, access to the person that you love or your child or your spouse is not acceptable,” Capron commented.
Those difficulties brought on by the pandemic only solidified Hospice of the Red River Valley’s desire to build the hospice house, even if that has meant dealing with construction headaches. “COVID absolutely pushed it,” Capron said. “That was a challenge, but the need has grown greater.”
A personal matter
For Capron, bringing a hospice house to North Dakota is more than just a service to the community, it’s also a deeply personal endeavor.
Capron previously worked in Ohio as the vice president of care innovations at Community Hospice. While there, she played a role in opening a hospice house for Community Hospice. Years later, her family utilized that very same hospice house when her son entered hospice care.
A veteran of hospice care, Capron knew exactly what to do once she learned of her son’s outlook. “You get the news that you have weeks left of your life,” she said. “What do you do? You can’t see your family. Your family can’t be there. What does that look like?”
Her next call was to the hospice house. Her family was set up in a comfortable, tasteful environment where family could just be family. “I am so grateful and thankful that I had that because he had children and his children could have support. We could have support, but we could be there as family,” Capron recalled. “I could be his mom. I didn’t need to be a caregiver. His medical needs were met in a beautiful environment where the kids felt comfortable and safe, not sterile.”
Capron is a believer that hospice care is about living and making memories in spite of a negative medical outlook. It’s why when someone asked her what the greatest moment was during her son’s hospice treatment, she replied by saying every last one of them. “That’s what you have in a hospice house. You get to create those moments just as a family. You don’t have to be the caregiver,” she said.
Heart of the community
Capron kept coming back to the word heart when describing the hospice house.
The overlapping hands in Hospice of the Red River Valley’s logo form a heart. Cut-out hearts adorn the windows of Capron’s office. A mosaic of employee-painted hearts greets visitors near the reception desk.
The heart, Capron said, also represents the Fargo-Moorhead community. “They help other people, they care greatly for their neighbors, they step up to the plate for those in need,” she remarked.
That continued support is what is finally making the hospice house a reality. Capron anticipated construction would conclude at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024.
Once it is open, the hospice house will have 18 beds. Capron estimates the facility could treat 1,205 patients per year, plus their families, who have access to additional bereavement and grief resources.
In keeping with the goal of creating an at-home feel, Capron said the hospice house will mirror the prairies and lakes environment that covers HRRV’s massive geographic footprint. Wood features throughout will offer a cabin-like feel, while walking paths, trails, an outdoor pond and fire pits will encourage patients and their families to enjoy the outdoors.
Inside, rooms will offer floor-to-ceiling windows and large entryways so beds can be pushed outside. Kitchen tables and chairs will give families a place to share meals. Families can even spend the night, with guest rooms available at no cost. Each wing will include a shared family room and four seasons room, offering even more spaces for families to congregate.
The “Village Row” area of the facility will feature a soda shop for kids, a gaming room and a general store.
For medical care, the hospice house will have a full team of experts, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other medical aides. “The beauty of hospice is it’s a whole clinical team helping a patient,” Capron remarked.
Managing symptoms, she noted, is the easy part. What’s more difficult is caring for loved ones left behind, which is why the hospice house will also offer social workers, chaplains, grief and bereavement support, volunteers, community education classes and support groups.
The goal of it all, Capron explained, is to make sure the final memories families make with their loved ones are positive. “It should be a beautiful, peaceful experience,” she said. “It can be and it should be.”