A new roof is next on the to-do list for the Foothills Country Hospice just north of Okotoks, and thanks to funding through the 10th annual Western Wheel Cares campaign, they're one step closer.
The hospice is no stranger to the newspaper's grant funding, said development and communications officer Stephanie Barnes, noting last year, the hospice purchased brand new Dyson fans for each of the eight patient rooms to ensure they are kept cool and comfortable in the hot summer months.
"We need to replace our roof in the next year," she said from a chair in the visitor's overnight suite. "That's going to be a $40,000 hit. We're going to put the funds we receive toward that and raise some additional funds, but that really needs to happen."
Other successful grant funding will go toward installing a new call-bell system and track system.
"Rather than our nurses having to use slings to lift patients if they need to, now we have actual systems in the rooms to do that," she said, noting all grant funding goes toward either purchasing new medical equipment or building maintenance.
Like other organizations, fundraising efforts were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated health restrictions.
On average, 100 patients and their loved ones are cared for each year and bereavement services have been extended into the community. Barnes said the hospice's operating costs are around $3 million a year with around 57 per cent covered by Alberta Health Services.
The remaining $1.3 million is paid by funds raised and contributions. This covers administration and LPN salaries and facility costs, including hauling in potable water every month to the tune of $1,300 and snow removal.
The Foothills Country Hospice, however, was able to adapt to the changes and with some creative thinking was able to go ahead with its two large fundraisers.
"In the past year, we moved to a fully virtual Hike for Hospice and that did incredibly well," Barnes said. "I think because the pandemic was so new (the year prior), and we didn't know what to do, it was hard to generate interest. But since online fundraisers have become a new norm, this just kind of blew up."
The Hike for Hospice raised around $75,000 and saw support from as far away as the UK.
"His mom was a resident here and he was in the UK and stared his own fundraiser," Barnes said. "He was going to run 100 kilometres by a certain day."
The hospice's car rally motored ahead this year as well, just in time before stricter regulations were reinstated. In total, the local end-of-life care facility brought in around $170,000.
Adaptation and a digital shift is one unexpected, but valuable lesson learned through the pandemic, Barnes said.
Much of the organization's staff taining and volunteer efforts have been shifted online and the hospice has started offering virtual grief groups, which are also open to the public.
"Our bereavement program has really expanded in the pandemic," Barnes said, including compassionate conversations – phone check-ins for those who recently lost a loved one — grief group and individual and family counselling.
New this year, too, are bereavement boxes. These thoughtfully curated packages are mailed or delivered to individuals who just lost a loved one. Inside, the custom boxes come with specialized books based on the specific loss, whether it was a parent, spouse, etc., and a checklist of things to do when a loved one dies.
"Sometimes when you're grieving, it's so hard to ask for help or you're so overwhelmed you don't know where to start. So these boxes are really special.
"We never had anything like that and you're just at a loss and you don't know where to start," Barnes said, pointing to the loss of her father 16 years ago.
The monthly giving program is another making a comeback, Barnes said, as the hospice is pushing to get 100 signed up. Currently, around 30 make monthly contributions.
Barnes said continued support from those who lost a loved one at the facility is moving.
"People's stories behind why they support the hospice is so meaningful and it's why we do what we do," she said.
The 2021 Western Wheel Cares campaign will benefit seven organizations: Foothills Advocacy in Motion Society, Foothills Country Hospice, Inclusion Foothills, Okotoks Food Bank, Pound Rescue, Rowan House Society and Sheep River Health Trust.
Last year's Wheel Cares campaign raised a record $71,379.65, bringing the total raised over the nine years to $414,282.
This year’s campaign runs Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.
To donate to Western Wheel Cares: mail cheques to Box 150, Okotoks Ab. T1S 2A2 or click here for a PayPal donation link.
As well, you can drop by to the Wheel office at 9 McRae St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.)