WATERLOO — Michaela Vandersee often encounters those who are shocked by her chosen profession.

“People will ask, ‘How can you work there?’ They think it would be so sad,” explained Vandersee, executive director of Cedar Valley Hospice. “My response is that most people who work here are truly called to do the work. Hospice nurses know they can’t change the situation patients are in, but they can improve the quality of life.”

Employees at Cedar Valley Hospice manage pain, explain various situations, medications and procedures and provide end-of-life care to patients and their loved ones.

“For 26 years, I have looked forward to the challenges and rewards of a normal day at Cedar Valley Hospice,” said Paul Steimel. “You never know who or what will need your attention, but you always know you are helping people are on their last journey in this life.”

Doing this well means the organization provides extraordinary support to its staff, said Shannon Melcher.

“Quality of life is at the heart of everything Cedar Valley Hospice does,” she said. “The quality of life we provide for our patients is reflected in the care and concern given to each of the employees as well. There is true attention given to employees’ personal and professional balance from every level of management and from our co-workers, too. Because of our family-friendly environment, we have quite a retention of long-term employees who know each other well and care deeply about one another.”

This quickly becomes apparent to new employees, said Kortni Isom. From her first day, she felt welcomed and mentored by her co-workers.

After a few months, Isom continued to have experiences that reinforced a universal desire to ensure her success. This included regular, constructive feedback from her supervisor and other managers as well as opportunities to learn new skills.

“Each day, you can hear co-workers affirming each other for the work they are doing,” she added. “It is the most supportive, encouraging, flexible and fun place I have ever worked.”

Hospice employees are passionate advocates for those in their care, said Vandersee. This can take a personal toll on staffers; she replaces the large box of facial tissue on her desk every few weeks.

“It’s hard to walk in that path with families,” said Vandersee. “It’s the job of our management team and executive team to communicate to employees that they are valued and listened to. We strive to ensure employees live balanced lives and carve out time to have fun with co-workers.”

The motto “making each moment matter” helps employees focus on patient and peer care, said Melcher.

“After four decades of providing exceptional end-of-life care and other services, our entire team strives to find better practices and efficiencies to remain the hospice provider of choice in the area,” she said. “That serves as a great catalyst to learn new skills and expand our education and abilities.”

To ensure staff needs are met, executive leaders and managers regularly evaluate the best ways to provide training and pilot new programs while monitoring those already in place.

This is especially important in recruiting new employees, said Vandersee. The shortage of health care workers certainly impacts the organization. She hopes prospective employees explore hospice care beyond assumptions and stereotypes and consider the impact of such a career.

“I’m astounded by how nurses continually step up and help families,” she said. “It reinforces the need for Cedar Valley Hospice as an organization to regularly check in with staff and ensure that we give them what they need to succeed and do their jobs.”

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