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home : news : news May 3, 2016

11/19/2012 10:41:00 AM
Veteran's urge to serve remains strong through the end of life
Hospice volunteer Rick Ekstrand and Marcia Bartels, whose husband Larry received services through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice’s veteran to veteran program.
Hospice volunteer Rick Ekstrand and Marcia Bartels, whose husband Larry received services through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice’s veteran to veteran program.

A program that pairs veterans in hospice care with a volunteer who is also a veteran, is making a difference for servicemen and women in the final stages of life, as well as their families and the hospice volunteer. The veterans-to-veterans hospice program of Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice matched a Hugo,MN veteran and his wife, with volunteer Rick Ekstrand of Chisago City, giving Ekstrand an opportunity to serve in a whole new way.

Working with veterans comes naturally to Ekstrand. His dad and five uncles served in either WWII or Korea. A Vietnam-era veteran, he enlisted and served in the US Army from 1965-68. Now a devoted veterans’ advocate, Ekstrand belongs to the Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW Post 4210 in Forest Lake and Chisago City American Legion Post 272, where he is adjutant. When Ekstrand heard that Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice was looking for veterans who could empathize with the special needs of veterans in hospice care, it seemed like a natural fit. Shortly after he retired, Ekstrand completed the requirements to be a hospice volunteer. His first contact was with a 94-year-old veteran in a nursing care facility who enjoyed visits talking both about the military and his personal life. When the gentleman died, Ekstrand contacted the family and helped arrange for an honor guard at the funeral. “Our legion post makes this service available to any veteran,” he explains.

Next were Larry and Marcia Bartels of Hugo. Marcia needed just a few hours of respite each week. Larry was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and like Ekstrand had served in Vietnam. Until this past summer, Marcia Bartels was able to take advantage of community programs to provide day care for her husband a couple days each week. This allowed Marcia, a retired administrative coordinator, to work part-time through last July. Recently when Larry became bedridden most of the time, the help of a hospice volunteer like Ekstrand was much appreciated. “When Larry was first diagnosed,” Marcia says, “A wise woman told me, ‘Something will grow from all of this, and it will be you.’ She was right—I’ve learned so much, and I’ve found inner strength I never thought that I had.” Since Larry’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s three years ago, Marcia says she became much better informed on the services available to veterans in her community. In addition to the services of Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, she said, “Washington County Human Services’ veterans advocate and Family Means of Stillwater were also very helpful,” she explains.

“I can’t imagine anybody in our situation not wanting (hospice services),” says Marcia. She has learned that it takes family, friends, neighbors and hospice volunteers to help provide the care she and Larry needed. Through hospice, the couple also has had the help of home health aides and a therapist. Ekstrand has also found rewards as a hospice volunteer. “It feels good knowing that you’re doing something really good for somebody.” Larry Bartels died Saturday, a day after this interview. On Saturday, Nov. 17 when Ekstrand provides the honor guard for Larry’s funeral at Mattson Funeral Home in Forest Lake, he will provide one final act of kindness for the Bartels. Veterans interested in serving as hospice volunteers are invited to call Tara Stein at 651-257-8850. Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, headquartered in Chisago City, provides home health, palliative and hospice care to residents of Chisago, Washington, Isanti, Anoka and Pine counties. The agency, which is a department of Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, has been nationally-recognized for six consecutive years. For more information, call 651-257-8850 or go to www.lakes.fairview.org/homecare_hospice.

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