Chris Chekouras is the Executive Director of Talbot Hospice, which has been serving the community since 1981. They recently celebrated their 40th anniversary.
EEDC: How many people are part of Talbot Hospice?
Chris Chekouras (CC): We have 70 people on our payroll; not all full-time, which comes out to 45 or so FTEs (full-time equivalents). It ranges from nurses to CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants), from social workers to people who work in our bereavement office, and from spiritual care folks to administrative people like myself. Then we have our volunteers, who play a huge part.
EEDC: Tell us about your volunteer component.
CC: Here is an interesting fact: Hospice care is the only healthcare service in the country that is required to include volunteers in our work. There is a federal mandate by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) that the number of hours volunteers provide each month has to be 5% or more of the number of clinical hours we provide to patient care.
Our volunteer numbers declined a little bit during COVID but have begun to come back. We’re always looking for good people.
EEDC: What functions do your volunteers perform?
CC: It varies. I mean, we have folks that work in our reception, we have folks that do gardening work for us, some are purely in office administrative roles, others serve as doulas, etc.
EEDC: How expensive is hospice care?
CC: Hospice Care is a covered benefit by Medicare, Medicaid, and nearly all private insurance. But then, we provide other services for which we do not charge. So while we are required to provide bereavement and grief support to families or loved ones of hospice patients, we also provide that for anyone in our community who might need it. For example, we may get a call from a local school where there may have been a tragedy involving one of their students, and they ask our team members to come in and work with the teachers, counselors, and students. We are also at the hospital working closely with parents who’ve lost a baby during pregnancy or are dealing with a stillborn situation.
EEDC: And there is no charge for these services?
CC: Right. We also have a Pathway Program that we offer to the community, which is characterized as non-medical supportive care. So as an example, if someone is caring for a loved one at home, who, let’s say, has dementia and needs to run errands. They would work with our Pathways volunteer, who could go and sit with that person. Or if they needed help with transporting someone to a doctor’s appointment, one of our Pathways volunteers could assist with that.
Then there is the Hospice House, a 12-bed residential care facility. It’s for those who’ve chosen to leave their home and live their final days at our site. While hospice care is covered by insurance, the provided 24-hour room and board and supportive care is not covered, at least by most insurances. So there is a charge to the patient for that service, but many patients can’t pay, so we have a sliding scale. Some people pay nothing; some pay $50 a day/$25 a day.
And those expenses are covered through the fundraising we do.
EEDC: Let’s talk about those fundraising efforts.
CC: Roughly speaking, we have a $4 million budget, and 25% of that is what we need to raise through fundraising. This comes out to around $1.3 million that we need to raise to cover the costs of those things where either we provide at no charge or there’s not adequate reimbursement to cover those expenses. The bottom line is we have to raise that money. So how do we do this? We do it one donor at a time.
There are groups out in the community that might have events and fundraise for us, such as Friends of Hospice, and then we do our own fundraising through annual appeals and bequests that someone has left us in their estate planning. We also have many folks in this community who hold the work that we do very dear to them and provide donations regularly, whether it be $100 or $25,000 yearly. These donations help support our work, and that’s something that we’re incredibly proud of–we could not provide them without the philanthropic support of this community.
EEDC: One of your well-known campaigns is the Festival of Trees. Can we expect to see it again this year?
CC: The Festival of Trees has been run by the Friends of Hospice, and we’ve joined them this year and put a number of different activities or events under the umbrella of what we are calling the Winter Festival. We’ve already had an event that was part of this festival, the Men in Heels.
But the main event will be the Festival of Trees which starts right after Thanksgiving. Concurrent with that will be the Carols by Candlelight. Then there is the House Tours, the Santa Fun run, coming up in November; all of these are part of the Winter Festival,
As always, we rely on the generosity of volunteers leading these efforts. The people who are volunteering their time, energy, and talents, to put these events together because, as you probably very well know, putting on events it’s very time-consuming, and some of them can be very expensive as well.
EEDC: With so much that you do, how does Talbot Hospice compare to the work done in other counties in this and other states?
CC: Anyone providing hospice services across the country and taking federal dollars has to be certified by Medicare and is required to offer certain things. So in that way, we’re all the same. What we have done exceptionally well is shown in our absolutely outstanding quality metrics. Again, this is a testament to the people doing the work here.
Also, what makes us different than other hospices across the country is the Hospice House itself. Residential hospice is not a required service; we choose to do that. Many other hospices will choose not to do that since it’s not reimbursed by insurance or Medicare; it’s a money loser. For us to continue to provide that service, it does require community support. And that’s where the community has stepped up and done a great job. I’ve worked in several communities on the East Coast, including outside of Philly, up in New Jersey, in Maine, and Baltimore. And the level of support in this community has been unprecedented. It’s just incredible.
EEDC: How long have you been with Talbot Hospice?
CC: I’ve been here just a little over two years. After a 35-year career in healthcare, I joined Talbot Hospice, mainly in the acute care world. Right before this, I was working across the bridge and living in Chestertown. I was at a point in my career where I could step away. So I decided to do that and thought I would consult or work my dream retirement job: working in a garden center, deadheading flowers, and watering plants… But this opportunity presented itself, and I thought how great it would be if I could work here and continue to serve the community, do meaningful work, and be home every night.
Then there are the people who work in hospice. The caregivers are like no other. The work, as you can imagine, can be pretty heavy. I’m not a clinician, I’m just an administrator, and I do my best to support what they need. So it’s just been a great fit for me to be part of the organization.
EEDC: How long have you been on the Eastern Shore?
CC: We bought our Chestertown home six years ago when we lived in Maine, knowing we would one day retire here on the Shore. So we’ve been living full-time here for two years now.
This is such a great community. The people here are great. It’s a very philanthropic community in terms of supporting nonprofits in our town and throughout the county.
EEDC: What do you want Easton to know?
CC: I would ask for support for our activities and fundraising events, whether we or others sponsor them, but which ultimately benefit hospice and the care we provide. There are opportunities for us to come and meet organizations and their constituents and be part of a dialogue. I think that’s highly beneficial, particularly if we can just be open and increase and improve their awareness.
For a lot of people, when they hear hospice, they think Grim Reaper. And I think people are beginning to understand its value, not just to the patient but to others. For a long time, folks weren’t comfortable talking about hospice in the same way that, for years, people wouldn’t talk about drug abuse or alcohol abuse. Those were sort of taboo. But now, as a society, we’re starting to recognize that these problems and opportunities exist, so let’s talk about it. Hospice is one of those things. Let’s talk about it and talk about the benefits so that everybody is aware of how valuable it can be.
Visit https://talbothospice.org to learn more about the organization or call 410-822-6681
Their 24-hour access line is 410-822-2724