Grief counseling is part of hospice services in Routt and Moffat counties |

Grief counseling is part of hospice services in Routt and Moffat counties

Katy Thiel and Vicki Barron

— When bereavement counselor Katy Thiel visited Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat Springs this week to talk to third-graders who had unexpectedly lost a classmate, she found she had a built-in group of peer counselors.

The impromptu student counselors were among the nine she had been meeting with every Friday throughout the year to help them come to terms with the loss of one of their own parents.

"I was amazed how the kids stepped up as leaders," Thiel said. "They were able to tell their classmates how they've coped with a loss of a family member."

Thiel, along with Vicki Barron, is co-director of Hospice and Palliative Care services for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. Barron observed that the students in Thiel's support group at Soda Creek had, in effect, become volunteers for hospice.

The hospice program, which provides services in both Routt and Moffat counties, is marking its 20th anniversary June 10 as it hosts its annual Hospice Celebration of Life fundraiser with a golf tournament at Catamount Ranch & Club and a barbecue with live music at the Larson Barn just south of Steamboat.

"It really is a celebration that this service is available in such a small town," Barron said.

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Volunteers are an important part of hospice's ability to provide services, and bereavement counseling is a significant part of its program as the number of people it helps to make the most of their final weeks of life continues to grow here.

The organization served 72 people in an end-of-life scenario in 2012, Barron said. Already this year, it has helped 42 people make the most of their last days, often while remaining in their homes with the support of a family caregiver. Others come to live in Rollingstone Respite House, in a shady spot just off Pine Grove Road.

Hospice has the means to serve more patients, Thiel said.

"We'll take on anyone who needs hospice, regardless of their coverage," she said.

Hospice care is for people who are resigned to the reality that they will not overcome a terminal illness and who wish to live as fully as possible until the end of their lives. Palliative care provides comfort and support earlier in a serious illness. Both blend expert medical care, pain and symptom management with emotional and spiritual support.

"Physicians are embracing hospice more and more," Barron said, and families are sharing the positive effect it had in their lives.

Thiel and Barron said the greatest effect can be realized on behalf of patients and their families who come to hospice early, when they are told by their physicians that they may have only six months to live, rather than waiting for the last week or two.

Hospice is covered under Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans and other managed care programs. Medicare does not cover hospice care for people who are still pursuing medical care intended to prolong their lives. But people are free to change their minds and move in and out of hospice at the stroke of a pen, Barron emphasized.

After a patient dies, the support for families continues at local expense without the support of Medicare, thus the program is heavily dependent on fundraisers like next week's golf tournament and dinner auction.

"We remain available for families for 13 months after a death to get them through the grief process and navigate the next steps in their own lives," Thiel said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

VNA Hospice Celebration of Life fundraiser

What: Golf tournament

When: Monday, June 10; 9 a.m. shotgun start

Where: Catamount Ranch & Club

Cost: $1,200 per team of four (includes four dinner tickets)

What: Upscale barbecue and live music by Loose Change

When: 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Larson Barn

Cost: $60 a person

Info: 970-871-7603

Bereavement support groups

VNA Hospice hosts bereavement support groups open to anyone. The group meets at 2 p.m. Mondays at Rollingstone Respite House in Steamboat, and at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays at Hayden Public Library. Call 970-871-7603 for more information.