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With Precautions, Agrace Is Pursuing Our Mission throughout COVID Outbreak

A Message from Lynne Sexten, CEO |  April 2020Lynne Sexten photo

I’ve probably written these words a hundred times, but never meant them more: I hope this letter finds you and your family well. 

The past month has been an exercise in striking the right balance in the face of a health crisis. At Agrace we’ve had to balance our patients’ needs for specialized, supportive care with the health risks of in-person contact. Following guidance from the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, we’ve taken several precautions so we can stay true to our mission of compassionate care.

Here are some of the changes we’ve made to protect our patients, their families and caregivers, our staff and volunteers, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19:

We are here to serve patients.

  • We continue to provide hospice care in homes, in long-term care facilities and at our inpatient units. All hospice patients are screened for COVID-19 symptoms before we visit. Although our nurses must do some hands-on care, we are also conducting “virtual” visits.

Some things have been paused, for safety.

  • We have temporarily stopped making PalliaHealth visits, and hosting grief groups and individual support sessions; however, we continue offering grief support over the phone through the Agrace Grief Support Center.
  • Only essential staff and minimal visitors have been allowed at our inpatient units. That’s a hard change, but vital, considering the risks.
  • We have temporarily stopped admitting patients to our Residences so those rooms can be used for patients whose symptoms are the gravest. However, we continue to take new patients in our Hospice Memory Care Suites.
  • We have suspended volunteer assignments. We hope to resume volunteer roles as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Our thrift stores are closed, and we have stopped offering donation pick-up services.

We are doing right by our staff.

  • Non-clinical staff are working from home, using vacation time or taking leaves of absence.
  • Some staff have been “redeployed”—given other duties to keep them working and earning, including tasks normally done by volunteers.
  • To limit their exposure, some of our CNAs (nursing assistants) have been temporarily reassigned or are off work due to cancelled duties. It’s a huge hardship, as CNAs are the heart of hospice care and we cannot afford to lose them! That’s why we have decided to continue paying them, based on their normal hours, for as long as Agrace can sustain that practice.

Friends, we need everyone—including you—to keep Agrace afloat. If you’d like to help us financially, please see the rest of this newsletter for ways you can offer support now. God bless you and your families with protection and health in this challenging time.


Meals from Edgewater Help Agrace Patients during ‘Safer at Home’

Kathy and Ron GartonKathy and Ron Garton were among the first families who had a meal made by The Edgewater hotel delivered to their doorstep April 3. A community effort is helping Agrace’s patients and their families receive nutritious meals during Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order. Two Madison brothers who have connections to both Agrace and Badger football, Jack and Bob Dunn, are supporting this program with their fundraising efforts.

Learn more at agrace.org/badgermeals.


Agrace CNA Seeks Memory Care for a Most Inspiring Mom

Tracey Kealey always deeply admired her mother Margo’s free spirit, work ethic and curiosity to master new skills. Margo’s nursing career inspired Tracey to become a certified nursing assistant at Agrace 19 years ago.

But in 2015, Margo was in a car accident that led to early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease—an irreversible loss of brain function. As the disease progressed, daily activities became more difficult for Margo, and behavior changes made it necessary to move into assisted living. While she benefitted from around-the-clock supervision and support, she could no longer go for daily walks and bikes rides or spend time with her beloved cats.

As life’s simplest joys slipped away from her, Margo grew increasingly frustrated. Tracey was heartbroken over the gradual loss of the mother she knew, and she felt defeated and guilty because she was unable to juggle the logistics of her mother’s care. “My mom did so much for me, and I was always wondering if I was doing enough for her,” Tracey remembers.

Memory Care at Agrace: Now Open

Soon after it opened, Tracey turned to Agrace’s new Hospice Memory Care Suites in Madison for the next step in her mother’s care. The Suites, which opened in December 2019, serve hospice patients who have memory care needs. This secure, homelike space has many design features that increase residents’ safety, and reduce agitation and discomfort. The staff have specialized training to care for people with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory loss. 

“She still had many moments of confusion and anger, but the staff knew how to make the most out of her time and keep her comforted,” Tracey recalls. “She found joy with holding the simulation therapy cats and looking out the windows to the beautiful courtyard.”

Margo spent her final 13 days at Agrace, with family and friends by her side. Tracey reflects, “My mom was always the constant in my life. This is the first time she’s on a completely different journey. This experience has given me a greater appreciation for my Agrace teammates, patients and families, and of course my mother.”

Learn more about the Agrace Hospice Memory Care Suites here or call our Enrollment Team at (800) 930-2770.


Volunteers’ Experiences, Enthusiasm Enrich Agrace’s Care

Peter Knight

National Volunteer Week starts April 19. We dearly miss our nearly 1,000 active volunteers (whose roles have been paused due to COVID), and cannot thank them enough for the value they bring to our patients and staff! Since Day One at Agrace, volunteers have applied their life experiences, talent and enthusiasm to support our mission. They make our care more personal and more compassionate, as you’ll see in these examples:

Peter Knight, inpatient unit volunteer

How do your visits with Agrace patients help them feel supported?

I visit with patients who want company. I can give them undivided attention, and I do a lot of listening—and that’s OK.

I help feed patients who are unable to do it for themselves and offer breaks to family members. I also straighten up the room, put laundry away and get fresh flowers to make their environment as attractive, comfortable, restful and welcoming as possible.

Very simple gestures like sitting close, listening carefully, offering a heated blanket, laughing out loud, talking about what it feels like outside and letting in the sunshine help those who might be lonely, confused or scared.

Michael Friedlander

Michael Friedlander (U.S. Army & Reserves), Vet-to-Vet volunteer

How do your visits with Agrace patients who are veterans support them as they face the end of life?

I believe veteran patients inherently trust another veteran, based on mutual willingness to make the most supreme sacrifice to protect the country. Whether it’s stories of basic training, tours overseas, battle buddies or hardships endured, we always find a comfortable space to connect. For many combat veterans, this trust allows them to process painful military memories that are meaningful, but cathartic to share.

I remember how a WWII naval serviceman—blind from macular degeneration—asked that I read his memoirs of the Pacific Battle. It brought tears to his eyes as I read of Kamikaze attacks that killed his friends. He said the reading was important to keep his friends’ spirits alive and underscore his gratitude for surviving. Vulnerable disclosure is only possible when communication is trusted.    

Volunteering for Agrace, I am able to show respect to those who have followed the honorable path of serving our country. I feel more connected with humanity and am reminded of wisdom from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”

Thank you, volunteers. We hope to see you again soon! 


Spreading Joy for our Patients and their Families

Lovely Weather for a Sleigh Ride

Jean, an Agrace patient, celebrated her 100th birthday with a big party on New Year’s Day. But she dreamed about something more: a sleigh ride! With the help of her Agrace care team, Jean set out for Rocking L Acres in McFarland on January 14. There wasn’t much snow, but as she rode, Jean sang a chorus or two of “Jingle Bells” as she celebrated just the way she had dreamed!

A Yarn about Kindness

Betsy, an Agrace hospice patient, had been knitting afghans as keepsakes for her grandchildren, but the last one was only half done when Betsy died last August. Fortunately, her Agrace care team had an idea. They reached out to Julie Fisk, a clinical team assistant at Agrace who has knitted for more than 50 years. Julie (pictured here), spent about 20 hours finishing the beautiful sampler-style design so it could be given to Betsy’s family just in time for Christmas!


1:1 Grief Support Offered by Phone

Although Agrace has paused our in-person grief support groups during the COVID outbreak, we continue to offer one-on-one grief support over the phone.

To request a time to talk with a grief specialist, please call (608) 327-7110. We also encourage you to follow the Agrace Grief Support Center on Facebook for their supportive messages during this most challenging time.


New IRA Changes May Favor Charitable Giving

A new financial law called the SECURE Act has changed some rules for individual retirement accounts (IRAs), which may affect your strategies for charitable giving.

Americans can now contribute to traditional IRAs longer and delay taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) until age 72. But that means some of us will face larger distributions and taxes down the road.

Importantly, most people who inherit IRAs from someone other than their spouse now must take the money out and pay taxes on it within 10 years, rather than stretching withdrawals and taxes over their expected lifetime. To reduce this tax burden, IRA holders may want to consider tax-advantaged charitable giving.

Consider a donation now: IRA holders can make a qualified charitable donation (QCD) of up to $100,000 after age 70.5 to reduce their taxable income. There may be tax advantages of making that gift before age 72, to lower future required distributions (RMDs).

Name Agrace as your beneficiary: If you believe your heirs would struggle with the tax burden of the new 10-year IRA withdrawal schedule, consider donating your IRA funds to a favorite charity, such as Agrace, and leaving different assets to your loved ones.

Be sure to ask your tax and financial advisors about the new IRA rules and naming Agrace as a beneficiary as you plan to provide for your loved ones. If you have questions about giving to Agrace, please contact Courtney Polster, Ph.D., CFRE, regional development manager at courtney.polster@agrace.org or (608) 327-7139.


Learning Traditions of the Communities We Serve

Faatima Khan

Faatima Khan joined Agrace in 2019 as our manager of diversity and inclusion. In this role, she supports our efforts to create a diverse workforce and ensure access to Agrace’s care for everyone in our community who needs it. She recently coordinated two opportunities for our staff and volunteers to learn more about the cultural and end-of-life traditions of the Hmong and Amish communities of southern Wisconsin. We thank Mai Zong Vue and Valerie Atkinson for sharing their insights with us.


Send Messages of Support to Our Health Care Heroes

During this coronavirus crisis, all of us are relying on the efforts of  many different kinds of health care workers in our communities. If you’re so inclined, please take a moment to let our Agrace Health Care Heroes know you appreciate their bravery, compassion and care by sending words of encouragement.

You can email us your inspiring messages or art, or even attach photos of drawings from kids. Click here to start a message.