In 1983 Ronald Reagan was halfway through his first term in office as president, and “A-Team” starring Mr. T premiered on television. Locally, a small group of people who were part of the Altrusa Club were organizing Hospice of Surry County.
This year, Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, a merger between Hospice of Surry County and Northern Hospice, is celebrating its 30th year of serving terminally ill patients and their families in Surry and surrounding counties.
“I was in my 20s, and the Altrusa Club met at the First Presbyterian Church where I attended,” said Mary Beth Wood, director of the Joan and Howard Woltz Hospice Home and one of Hospice of Surry County’s first volunteer nurses.
Wood explained that one of the Altrusa members had seen Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in end of life care and hospice, speak, and that was what kicked off the drive to organize a hospice program for Surry County. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Kübler-Ross was making a tour of the United States speaking.
The board of the Hospice of Surry County hired Pat Ashworth as the first director. She was the only paid position, Wood said.
The first training classes were held for community volunteers as well as nurse volunteers in 1983, and Wood said despite being young, she knew that was something she wanted to be involved in.
“I was fortunate to get to see Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talk when I was 16 in school in Maryland, and that was one of the building blocks that helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life,” Wood said.
The local hospice organization started with just a couple of patients, and now Wood said it serves 300 patients, with 20 beds available at the Woltz Hospice Home and the rest being served at home.
“When it first started, we were assigned a patient or two and you visit and help administer medications, teaching, do aide work like bathing patients,” Wood said. “Now, the paid nurses have 12 to 15 patients they see maybe once a week or so.”
In addition to Ashworth, the first volunteer staff overseeing the hospice organization included Dr. Adrian Griffin, who was the first medical director, and Dr. Eugene Paschold, an oncologist who helped with the training.
In the 1990s, Hospice of Surry County became Medicare certified, which meant it could take on paid nurses and staff.
In 1993 or 1994, Northern Home Care, a division of Northern Hospital of Surry County, decided to branch out and start a hospice program. From that expansion came Northern Hospice, where Wood was hired as the patient care coordinator in 1994. Dee Eadie was its first director.
There were two hospices serving the area from 1994 until their merger to become Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care in 2005, noted Sheila Jones, director of marketing for Mountain Valley Hospice.
Mountain Valley Hospice now has seven locations in Mount Airy, Elkin, Yadkinville, Pilot Mountain, the Woltz Hospice Home in Dobson and Hillsville and Stuart, Va., and serves 16 counties, including Alleghany, Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin in North Carolina and Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, Grayson, Henry, Patrick, Pulaski and Wythe in Virginia.
The most recent locations to open have been the Stuart, Va., office and the Woltz Hospice Home, both in 2009, and in 2011, the Pilot Mountain office opened.
While Mountain Valley Hospice has continued to grow and branch out, the mission has remained steady, Jones said — to improve the quality of life for those with limited life expectancy and their families.
Fundraisers, celebrations being planned
Each of Mountain Valley’s seven locations will have some type of celebration marking the organization’s 30-year anniversary during 2013. The first of those celebrations will be an open house and business after hours at the Stuart, Va., location on March 19 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
So far, three other celebrations have been scheduled later in the year — Oct. 29 at the Yadkinville office, Nov. 5 at the Elkin office and Nov. 14 at the Mount Airy office. These also will be open house and business after hours events.
“November is National Hospice Month, so some of them will be in conjunction with that,” said Jones.
Mountain Valley also has several fundraisers planned, one which is being held now.
The 28 days of giving raffle fundraiser will be held throughout the month of February. Tickets for $10 a piece are now being sold for a chance at 28 prizes, one to be given out each day in February, worth more than $2,800. These include things like $50 gift cards, $100 shopping spree, tickets to a Wake Forest basketball game, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., vacation and more.
“One employee has sold 100 tickets by herself,” Jones said of how well the first-time raffle fundraiser is going. “We’ve had people sign up to donate prizes in the next raffle fundraiser, so this will be one of those that becomes an annual event.”
The organization also is doing a 30-year anniversary cookbook, which is in the proofing stages now.
“We’ve selected recipes from the community, more than 400 volunteers and 260 employees, so it will feature 800 recipes,” said Jones, who noted that the cookbook done for the 25th anniversary had 325 recipes included.
“We expect it to be back by the end of April in time for Mother’s Day,” she said. “As soon as the cover is ready, we’ll post it on our website and start taking presales.”
The monies raised from Mountain Valley’s fundraisers provide funding for patients who don’t have insurance.
“The other benefits of doing fundraisers is the community engagement and awareness, to tell my story about what we do with the money and help people who can benefit from our services,” said Jones. “I feel that awareness is very much needed in all the counties we serve.”
A 30-year logo and letterhead has been developed to be used this year as well.
The annual Tour de Mayberry bike ride fundraiser will be the first Saturday in May, while a music-related fundraiser is in the works for June or July. Also, in August, the annual port-a-pit chicken fundraiser will be held at the Yadkinville location.
“We are very appreciative for the community support we’ve been given and our volunteers. This place runs on volunteers,” Jones said.
“It seems like just yesterday when a group of volunteers started a hospice program in Mount Airy,” said Denise Watson, executive director of Mountain Valley Hospice. “Their dreams helped us grow into who we are today.”
Reach Wendy Byerly Wood at email@example.com or at 719-1923.