Despite struggling economy, hospice donations still doing well

BY ZHANRAN ZHAO | JULY 09, 2009 7:21 AM

Bruce Gronbeck is taking a different path after retiring as a professor of communication studies at the UI. His post-career plans still involve some golf — but he is teeing-off for a good cause.

“I want to find more and more ways to contribute to the community,” he said.

He is doing just that, and more, as a volunteer at the Iowa City Hospice, which has provided end-of-life care at for residents in seven Iowa counties for 26 years.

The golf tournament he participates in, coming on August 3, is one of the yearly fundraisers for the hospice, which, like other nonprofit hospices, provides palliative care to all patients regardless of ability to pay.

Despite a change in the makeup of charitable donations this year, hospice officials said, it is still too early to determine the economy’s effect on the organization.

Officials have seen an increase in the money received from an annual appeal letter and philanthropies, though funds from memorial gifts have dropped.

“It’s hard to track if the economic crisis has an impact or not,” said Margaret Reese, the manager of marketing and development at the hospice. “Everyday’s different.”

She said it’s hard to predict changes in donations, but said the decrease in funding has had some impact on the hospice. However they have not had to curtail services.

The number of patients at the Iowa City Hospice has remained relatively steady despite day-to-day fluctuations. And, even with the third lowest Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation in Iowa, the hospice receives enough money to cover its services, she said.

With other community health centers and nonprofits — such as the UI Foundation — are hitting hard times, the relative stability of the hospice might seem like a pleasant surprise. But to Reese, the moral of the story is not the money.

“[This] shows the strong support we receive from the community,” Reese said.

Maggie Elliott, the director of the hospice, wholeheartedly agrees. She praised the support and help the hospice has received from volunteers in the community.

“They’re just wonderful,” she said. “They can do just about anything.”

The Iowa City Hospice is the oldest nonprofit hospice in the area. It offers services including musical therapy, readings, and personal care.

In addition to the golf tournament, Iowa City Hospice also holds the Walk for Dignity each year to raise funds. Both events are organized in part by the hospice’s hundreds of volunteers, such as Gronbeck.

But to him, the hospice’s mission doesn’t center on the end of life.

“Death’s not our focus, but to make higher quality lives,” he said.

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