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Virtual Visits Keep Agrace ‘Alongside’ Patients

How we’ve adapted to prevent COVID-19 spread

The beauty of both hospice and palliative care is being alongside a patient through tough times, physically and emotionally. But in 2020, very little is as it should be.

As COVID-19 continues to prevent us from entering some patients’ homes and long-term care facilities, virtual visits are saving the day. Using smartphones, iPads or laptop computers, video chats let our staff see our patients—and our patients see their loved ones.

Christine Lawrenz, an Agrace hospice nurse case manager in Janesville, says that while virtual visits have obvious limits, there are ways to help from a safe distance. “With virtual visits we can work on symptom management and talk about how people are feeling—their anxiety, their mood. COVID is very anxiety-inducing for a lot of people, and I think virtual visits were the only way some people were going to accept any help from us.”

For example, Christine explains, “We had one patient who was really afraid of COVID. She didn’t want in-person visits, but she had a lot of dyspnea (breathing trouble). We had long virtual visits with her, troubleshooting what she could do to feel better. And it worked for her.”

Technology: From Ugh to Hug

Jen Vogl, hospice social worker, made all her patient visits remotely for several months, often teaming with Carmen, an Agrace nurse practitioner. “Carmen has shown me that you can still show love and care through a virtual visit, if you do it with body language,” Jen says. “At the end, she gives a virtual hug. Patients just light up when they see that! It’s amazing. For many patients, technology is just ‘ugh,’ but they get that virtual hug and they smile.”

During her in-person visits, Jen helps her patients make phone or video calls to their loved ones. She says, “Family members are more essential than I am. If I can connect them, I don’t feel so guilty that I can be there, but the family cannot.”

Christine also uses virtual visits every day to communicate with patients’ families. “Sometimes they haven’t seen the patient at all, for months, and we’re making sure they stay in the loop about what’s going on.” She adds, “I know families are appreciative; they tell me every time. The visits really make a difference for them.”


Staying Strong, Investing in Our Future

Stopping for a selfie with a few of our hard-working staff

From Lynne Sexten, president & CEO

Dear Friends of Agrace,

As we navigate the many daily uncertainties of the pandemic, one thing is certain: We’re so grateful for your continued partnership!

We appreciate your willingness to share the Agrace story with family, neighbors and friends. We value your eagerness to serve as volunteers, when it’s safe to do so. And we thank you for your generosity.

The dozens of checks and notes of encouragement you’ve sent us truly lift our spirits and support the important work we do—helping people face the challenges of aging, living with illness, dying and grieving.

One specific way you’re helping Agrace build the future of end-of-life care is by funding scholarships for our staff. I want to shine a light on six talented, dedicated nursing assistants (CNAs) who were recently awarded 2020 Agrace Future Nurses Scholarships:

  • Sarayana Amaguana Cachuango
  • Laura DeBroux
  • Itzel Fuentes-Sanchez
  • Angela Gomez Rodriguez
  • Leticia Gonzales
  • Dakota Thompson

Funded by donors, the Future Nurses Scholarship Program gives Agrace CNAs an opportunity to receive a scholarship to pursue a nursing degree. Nurses are essential to our patients’ care, and we are proud to support these exceptional women as they follow their dream of becoming Agrace nurses.

Thank you for your partnership and support,

Lynne Sexten


Prevent the Pandemic from Compounding Grief

Jessie Shiveler

Jessie Shiveler has touched the lives of countless grieving children and adults in her 19 years with Agrace. As manager of community grief services, Jessie and her team have a new challenge in 2020: helping people whose grief is compounded by the pandemic.

“People grieving a death that occurred during this pandemic can feel ‘disenfranchised’ grief—grief that isn’t recognized,” Jessie says. “People may feel their loved one’s death isn’t getting attention or is seen as a statistic, rather than a person. Limits on funerals and memorial services are taking away the comfort and healing bereaved people find in these traditions.”

What can help prevent grief from overwhelming you?

  • Allow yourself to think about and talk about the losses you’ve experienced. This helps you to incorporate the reality of your loss into your life, rather than avoiding it.
  • Difficult emotions can be scary—something we want to avoid. It’s necessary to feel those tough emotions, but there are times we need to put our grief feelings to the side, and that’s OK, too.
  • Reach out to the people you trust to support you in the way you need to be supported.
  • Have a virtual memorial event: Ask family and friends who knew your loved one to send you their stories or photos, or ask everyone to do a ritual at the same time in their own homes—light a candle, sing a meaningful song, read a favorite story. Make sure to include the kids.

Nurturing What Patients Value Most

Understanding our patients’ interests helps us tend to their quality of life. Larry always grew a big garden at his Janesville home. While living at Agrace in Janesville earlier this year, he and his family planted a container garden on his patio. When his plants started to wilt in the August heat, Larry’s nurses came to the rescue. Using expired IV bags, they helped him create an innovative drip system to keep his tomatoes and cucumbers watered and growing strong!

RN Miranda Truman with Larry, an avid gardener

Larry’s IV-bag watering system kept his tomatoes and cukes growing!


Redeployed Staff See Agrace in a New Light

Karen Wheelock greets thrift store shoppers

Do you ever think about trading places and trying a different job? With volunteering on hold over the past six months, most Agrace volunteer coordinators are “redeployed” into different roles temporarily, where they’re gaining new insight into our mission.

Karen Wheelock has helped with gardening, greeted thrift store guests, and assisted patients at mealtimes. She says, “I’m grateful to have seen how our mission works in different ways. From maintaining the Brick Walk gardens for families who have lost a loved one, to seeing excellent customer service at our thrift stores, to witnessing the compassion of direct patient care, I have been impressed by the work of my fellow staff members!”

Erin Woodward has greeted and handed out protective masks to Agrace visitors, stocked linens for patients’ rooms and helped the Finance Team: “The hospitality role gives me the opportunity to talk to patients’ loved ones. It is very heartwarming to hear their appreciation for all the hard work and compassion of every staff member—especially the nurses, social workers and CNAs.”

Barb Graham has answered phones for Age at Home, cleaned medical equipment, and stocked Dori Bears and Comfort Shawls. “I enjoy the calls with Age at Home clients and caregivers,” Barb notes. “The scope of services provided by Age at Home is amazing!”


3 Ways You Can ‘Volunteer’ Now

Andy Boryczka

From Andy Boryczka, director of employee and volunteer engagement

Nearly all our usual volunteer roles have been on hold since spring for safety—and that’s still the case today. I wish we could set a date when all volunteers can resume their roles, but as of early October, things are still too uncertain.

While we wait out the pandemic, there are still lots of ways you can volunteer to support Agrace. I hope you’ll consider one of these three ideas! Please call (800) 553-4289 if you have questions.

  1. Masks: Can you make and donate cloth masks? They’re needed for visitors who arrive at Agrace without one.
  2. Comfort shawls: Can you knit or crochet? Handmade shawls and lap blankets are a comfort to our patients. See our preferred pattern and donation details here.
  3. Dori Bears are given to patients and young family members for comfort. You can donate new stuffed bears that are more than 10 inches tall or make a donation to help us purchase new bears. See details here. For health safety, please bring bears to Agrace in plastic bags like the Brice family did (see below).

‘Bringing Love Bears’ Helps Heidi Honor her Husband

Heidi Wieland-Brice and her nieces Maddy and Mickey (below) recently donated Dori Bears in memory of her husband, Bryan, who had hospice care from Agrace in Darlington. Heidi affectionately named the bears she donated “Bringing Love Bears” in honor of her late husband, whose initials were BLB.

Heidi says, “They were thought of through love, selected with love and designed with love. We need more love in this uncertain world, and if these bears can help a little, well, that would give my heart some joy.”

The Brice family’s “Bringing Love Bears”


You’re Welcome in Agrace’s Legacy Circle

If you have included Agrace Foundation in your estate planning or other planned giving, let us know! We’d love to thank you for your support and invite you to join the Legacy Circle. It’s our planned giving society that recognizes donors who have included Agrace in their estate plans.

To learn about simple ways you can include Agrace in your future gift planning or to join the Legacy Circle, please contact Courtney Polster, regional development manager, at (608) 327-7139.


Are You a Thrifting Newbie? There’s So Much Choice Now!

If you are new to the idea of thrifting, now is a terrific time to explore Agrace’s four thrift stores and start shopping to support Agrace! While nearly everyone was stuck at home this past spring, their “corona cleaning” means we have lots of donated merchandise available in our thrift stores. Please stop by to save money and go home with clean, high-quality thrift treasures.

Visit the Agrace Thrift Home Store on South Stoughton Road in Madison, to find items carefully curated and diligently cleaned by our staff and volunteers:

  • Desks, chairs and bookcases for home offices or “schools”
  • Upholstered sofas and chairs
  • Home décor, framed art and lamps that fit a small budget
  • New jewelry—a great gift for a friend or yourself

If clothing, books and housewares are more your passion, you’ll find our other locations packed full of quality merchandise, too: Madison–West on Junction Road, Madison–East on East Springs Drive, and Janesville, on Humes Road, near Target. We’ve also got a pop-up holiday shop opening soon in Madison.

See all of our store locations and hours here.