TMC Hospice: Honoring Our Veterans

TMC Hospice volunteers Lewis Jones, center, and Dave Falkner honor a veteran and hospice patient for her service to her country.

When Lewis Jones came on for his shift at Peppi’s House, staff let him know that one of the hospice patients was a veteran and had been honored for his military service earlier in his stay. When the man died later that day surrounded by his large extended family, which included active-duty military, Jones joined with another volunteer to drape the unit’s American flag quilt over the body. As the mortuary came to take him away, the pair, themselves veterans, stood silently saluting as the patient was wheeled out of the building.

The family and staff were overwhelmed with emotion seeing such a show of respect and appreciation for this veteran. Jones stayed to comfort some of the family members, giving that special touch he gives all the time that makes him memorable to everyone.

Today, on Veterans Day, the staff, volunteers and supporters of TMC Hospice honor those who have served our country. TMC Hospice provides care for close to 300 U.S. veterans each year. With the need only growing, we partner with We Honor Veterans and the Hospice Veterans Partnership to better care for, reach out to and honor veterans needing end-of-life care.

Earlier this fall, Jones was one of 200 hospice volunteers across the nation nominated for the 2018 Volunteers Are the Foundation of Hospice award by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. While he wasn’t one of the top winners, he’s still a winner at TMC Hospice.

“Out of many volunteers, Jones is the one everyone talks about. His hugs, smiles and greeting help uplift the staff every time he volunteers,” said Krista Durocher, volunteer coordinator for TMC Hospice, noting that November is also Hospice Awareness Month.

Jones has been a TMC Hospice volunteer since 2010, logging nearly 1,100 hours of service in that time. He started out filing medical records and then was recruited to the bereavement team making weekly calls to families. He started helping with quarterly celebrations of life and eventually became the lead volunteer for these events.

In 2016, this versatile volunteer migrated from bereavement calls to the Tuck In program. Each Thursday, Jones gets a list of homecare patients who are still in their homes (vs. a care facility or nursing home) and checks in to make sure they’re OK and have enough supplies to get through the weekend. Not only do the patients appreciate the calls, but the weekend on-call staff appreciates the reduction in urgent calls for supplies, allowing them to better focus on symptom control and other pressing needs.

“When we started its journey with We Honor Veterans a few years back,” Durocher said, “we knew right away that Jones would be an excellent person to help grow this program in our community.” Jones met with various veteran organizations in town and made invaluable connections as his love for honoring veterans began to blossom.

Hospice patients who are veterans are offered the opportunity for an honoring. During this ceremony, a patient is presented with a certificate of appreciation, a lapel pin and a small American flag as small tokens of gratitude for their service.
Jones, being a Vietnam veteran, has a soft spot for other Vietnam veterans and especially loves to conduct those honorings.

“At every one of those honorings,” Durocher said, “he makes a point to say ‘welcome home’ to the veteran and explains to those in the room why it’s especially important to say that to a Vietnam veteran.”

From all of us at TMC Hospice to all our veterans – including Lewis Jones — thank you for your service.

If you’re a veteran interested in helping honor other veterans or are interested in volunteering with TMC Hospice find out more.

Military service shaped TMC Imaging Director

danfelix3 (002)Every day is Veteran’s Day for Air Force veteran Dan Felix. There will be no parades or fanfare for him today. Instead, he will go to work to serve, shaped by his service in the Air Force.

Felix, the director of imaging at TMC, joined right after graduating from his high school in his rural, mining community of Hayden. There were 43 students in his graduating class.

A first generation U.S. citizen, whose parents hailed from Mexico, Felix was drawn to military service. “I wanted to give back to the country that allowed my parents to raise a family in America with all the benefits we all enjoy,” Felix explained. He’d seen firsthand great poverty in Mexico. “We had health care, clothing, food, money. From a young age, I learned to appreciate the opportunities and luxuries   our great country had to offer.”

The Air Force provided structure, taught him to develop his natural qualities of perseverance and patience, and challenged him to keep growing. He appreciated the mines – his father and brothers retired from that work – but he didn’t want it for himself. He signed up for college classes, obtaining associate’s degrees in X-ray technology and later, nuclear medicine. A bachelor’s in medical and imaging technology followed. He is now one class away from a master’s degree in leadership.

The transition was a natural one. “X-ray has some parallels to the technical work I was doing in the Air Force – there’s electronics and physics and you’re working with your hands – and that’s combined with an intellectual component.”

It was nuclear medicine that stole his heart. He initially told his instructor there was no way he was going to like it. But Day One he was besotted. “Just the sound of it is intriguing, but beyond that, you’re in the physics world, talking about radiation at its origin. I was living in this cerebral realm I had aspired to my whole life.”

He ended up joining Tucson Medical Center in 1999 to train in nuclear medicine. He never left.

“As I look back and analyze the mission of the military and TMC, they dovetail,” he said, noting both exist to serve others and play a role in providing for the greater good of everybody else.

He never takes the day off for Veteran’s Day. “I am so appreciative of being able to come into work to help others – the patients we serve, the workers who make up this hospital – and to provide for my family. I take a lot of pride in those three things, so if you think about that, why wouldn’t I want to work?”

That doesn’t mean he won’t spend some time reflecting on those who serve. “Joining the military at a young age means leaving your comfort, your home, your family and everything you know that is normal, and embarking into a huge world of unknowns,” he said.

“When I think about veterans, I think about those who decided to take a risk and take a leap of faith for the sake of their country. It’s not just a job. It’s a sacrifice for others – and I don’t think that’s easily understood unless you’re the one doing the sacrificing.”

Hospice volunteers honor veterans year-round

For Vietnam combat veteran David Powell, it is a privilege and an honor to say a final thank you and give one final salute to fellow veterans who are dying at Tucson Medical Center’s hospice, Peppi’s House, or in hospice care at a home.

Many of the veterans find it hard to fathom that they would be honored by the We Honor Vets program: They were just doing their duty, they insist.

Veteran Ceremony

David Powell presents a flag to veteran Thomas Elliott while D.A. Falkner looks on. Elliott served in the U.S. Army. He passed away four days after this ceremony.

Others, some of whom did not come home to a thank you, particularly returning from Vietnam or the so-called “forgotten war” in Korea, are moved to tears. Some of them haven’t even shared details of their service with family – but when they see another coming in uniform, to hang a flag and express their gratitude, it opens doors. Here’s someone who understands.

“For me, it’s part of a spiritual journey to be with them at this time,” said Powell, who had cared for veterans as a volunteer chaplain when he learned about TMC’s program, which will honor an estimated 300 veterans this year. We Honor Veterans is an awareness campaign, designed to recognize that veterans often have different medical and spiritual challenges, and developed in collaboration with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Veterans are honored with certificates of appreciation, lapel pins, American flags and other tokens of gratitude, such as pillowcases or quilts in patriotic design.

Lt. Col. D.A. Falkner, a former Air Force veteran, said while it is important to fly a flag on Veterans Day and Memorial Day to commemorate those who have served, he is grateful for the opportunity to forge more personal connections. “I just appreciate being able to thank them directly for their patriotism and service to their country,” he said.

Falkner said there are many ways to show appreciation to veterans:

  • Active duty military members in particular are needed to perform final honor presentations to veterans in hospice
  • Identify your local veteran organizations and see if there are ways to donate or volunteer
  • Attend community events that commemorate service
  • Mobilize church and school groups to write thank you letters to members currently serving
  • Thank a veteran close to you
  • Thank a veteran you see in the community

Program volunteers are considering an extension of the program to honor veterans in care homes, before they need hospice services. “This is where my heart is,” said Powell. “It is such a powerful program, that we wanted to be able to advance its reach into the community to honor veterans before they reach the end of their lives.”

Go to Sharing Memories to download a TMC Hospice Life Story Book, where you can create a family treasure of memories and experiences of your loved ones. You can also use the form to sign up for our quarterly newsletter or get more information about volunteering.


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