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Serenity HospiceCare receives unexpected honor

When the invitation arrived at Serenity HospiceCare, we knew it was out of the ordinary. It’s not every day that you are invited to be the guest of honor at a banquet in a correctional institution.

Jackie Mehner, director of Nursing and Brandon Leach, director of Quality, are both registered nurses in leadership roles at Serenity HospiceCare. They were invited to the Potosi Correctional Center for a dinner, honoring the history and the role of hospice within the prison.

Unsure of what to expect, what they found was a group of inmates who were devoted to a calling within the walls of the institution, to help fellow inmates with life-limiting illnesses, die with dignity. A small group of inmates had formed their own hospice service, around 1997. Their activity coordinator, a member of the prison staff, had contacted Serenity HospiceCare leading up to it, to gather as much information as possible on how hospice works. Members of Serenity HospiceCare’s staff, then under the name HospiceCare, had provided training and advice to the newly formed organization, which would help them get the program off the ground.

With HospiceCare’s help, they launched their prison hospice program. They developed a logo; a dove that is similar to Serenity HospiceCare’s dove logo, and t-shirts so the hospice volunteers are easily identifiable when they are doing hospice work. They studied and trained so they could be the best possible caregivers and companions for their patients.

“It’s incredible how their service to their fellow inmates mirrors the service we provide in our community,” said Leach.

Leach and Mehner were presented with a check on behalf of the inmates involved in the hospice service. The group sold pizza in the canteen for months. The profits from the sales totaled $558, which was presented to Serenity HospiceCare at the banquet.

“Receiving the entire profit from a PCC prisoner fundraiser is an extremely humbling experience,” said Leach.

The prison hospice volunteers, their program coordinator and the two Serenity nurses enjoyed a catered meal and great discussion on hospice care. Each inmate was required to purchase their own ticket to the banquet, enough to pay their share of the catered meal. The group also paid the cost of the meal for Leach and Mehner, out of their own pockets.

Leach and Mehner were eager to learn more about what the small prison hospice agency is doing, and how they do it. The group was glad to share their scrapbook, which included documents since their very first days as an organization, as well as details of how they care for the terminally ill, in the facility.

The inmate hospice volunteers explained that they do this work because they believe every person has the right to die with dignity. They are often persecuted by other inmates for their efforts, but they continue with the important work. They tend to their patients in the infirmary. A staff nurse handles the clinical part, while the inmate volunteers do the rest. The rules are very strict on what they can and can’t do. For instance, they are allowed to hold a hand, but are not allowed to touch the patient above the elbow. The time they are given to spend with the patient is limited, as well.

“The men I talked to see their hospice work as a calling, much as our nurses do,” said Mehner. “They also express that they feel they are where they need to be, with their work, although they wish they had come to it by a different way.”

“I knew these guys were the real deal as they shared their experiences of being persecuted by fellow inmates that do not volunteer for hospice,” Leach said.

It is believed that the Potosi Correctional Center inmate hospice program was the first of its kind in the state. Other prison hospice programs are now in place, and were modeled after this one. Serenity HospiceCare will be returning to Potosi Correctional Center this fall to assist with some additional hospice training.

“I am eager to go back and work with these men to make their program even better,” said Leach.

Serenity HospiceCare is the area’s only independent, not-for-profit, faith-based hospice service. Serenity HospiceCare was also the first hospice in our area, started by a group of volunteers who saw a need, and made it their mission to fulfill it. Serenity HospiceCare still fills that need in our area by providing hospice, palliative and bereavement services to the community at no cost to the patient or the family.

For more information on Serenity HospiceCare, you can visit us online at SerenityHC.org, or call us at 431-0162. You can also find us on Facebook for the latest news.

Jackie Leach and Brandon Mehner are presented with a check on behalf of the inmates involved in the hospice service at Potosi Correctional Center. The group sold pizza in the canteen for months. The profits from the sales totaled $558, which was presented to Serenity HospiceCare at the banquet.

Jackie Leach and Brandon Mehner are presented with a check on behalf of the inmates involved in the hospice service at Potosi Correctional Center. The group sold pizza in the canteen for months. The profits from the sales totaled $558, which was presented to Serenity HospiceCare at the banquet.

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