Veterans connect via hospice care

Pictured are hospice volunteer Rick Ekstrand and Marcia Bartels, whose husband Larry received services through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice’s veterans-to-veterans program. Photo supplied

Pictured are hospice volunteer Rick Ekstrand and Marcia Bartels, whose husband Larry received services through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice’s veterans-to-veterans program. Photo supplied

It seems veterans of all ages share a lifelong bond.

Now a program that pairs veterans in hospice care with a hospice volunteer, who is also a veteran, is making a difference for servicemen and women and their families in the final stages of life. Among the most recent beneficiaries of the veterans-to-veterans hospice program offered by Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice were a Hugo veteran, his wife and volunteer Rick Ekstrand of Chisago City.

Working with veterans comes naturally to Ekstrand whose dad and five uncles served in either World War II or Korea. A Vietnam-era veteran, Rick enlisted and served in the U.S. Army from 1965-68. Now a devoted veterans advocate, he belongs to the Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW Post 4210 of Forest Lake and Chisago City American Legion Post 272, where he serves as adjutant.

When Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice was looking for veterans who could relate to veterans in hospice care, it seemed like a natural fit for Ekstrand. Shortly after he retired, he completed the requirements to become a hospice volunteer.

His first contact was a 94-year-old veteran in a nursing care facility who enjoyed Rick’s visits talking both about the war and his work life. When the gentleman died, Rick contacted the family and helped arrange for an honor guard at his funeral.

“Our legion post makes this service available to any veteran,” he explained.

Rick’s most recent contacts were Larry and Marcia Bartels of Hugo. In this case, Rick gave Marcia a few hours of respite each week by staying with Larry, who was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Also a U.S. Army veteran, Larry Bartels served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966.

Until this past summer, Marcia Bartels was able to take advantage of community programs to provide day care for her husband a couple days each week.

Recently when Larry became bedridden the majority of the time, the help of a hospice volunteer like Ekstrand was much appreciated.

Since Larry’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s three years ago, Marcia said she became better informed on the services available to veterans in her community. In addition to the services of Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, “Washington County Human Services’ veterans advocate and Family Means of Stillwater were also very helpful,” she noted.

Larry Bartels died Saturday, a day after this interview. Rick will provide one more service for Larry and Marcia on Saturday, Nov. 17, when he provides an honor guard for Larry’s funeral at Mattson Funeral Home in Forest Lake.

Veterans interested in serving as hospice volunteers are invited to call Tara Stein at 651-257-8850.

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