Kim Poole's workworld teeters between life and death.
As program director for the nonprofit organization Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, she rides an emotional gamut with her staff as they assist patients with needs ranging from short-term care and grief counseling to terminal illnesses.
Some days their office bursts with laughter, other days it flows with tears. But even when death looms and the air is thick with grief, she and her staff of nurses, counselors and office personnel can often find solace when helping patients prepare for death.
"We share our patients' fears and their joys," Poole writes. "And yes, when they die, we mourn and we cry. But we always know we did what we could to walk those last steps with them in dignity and in comfort."
Poole's essay won first place in the Juneau Empire's and Capital City Weekly's "Why I Love My Workworld" employer essay contest. Her office will receive a plaque and a catered meal served by the newspapers' management teams as part of the prize package. Poole said she entered the contest so her staff would be recognized for their commitment.
"The staff here works very, very hard and they do incredible work," she said. "It amazes me ... as their supervisor who comes in everyday and listens to the things they deal with and as they work so compassionately and competently. What we do is very stressful, but everyone supports each other - which is rare. I enjoy this workplace and it needs some recognition."
Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, the city's only Medicare-certified hospice, provides home care for terminally ill patients who would rather not spend their final moments in a hospital. They also provide short-term home care services, medical equipment loans, physical and occupational therapy, temporary daily living assistance, pain management, prescription education and serves as liaison between patients and physicians. Poole said some of the lesser-known services provided are chaplain and bereavement counseling.
"We provide many services that aren't billed out," she said. "Another personal touch is (we) will give anyone two free counseling sessions, even if they aren't our client. If you're having difficulty coping, you can call and talk to our counselor twice for free."
Office manager Kathryn King, the only full-time employee on staff, said group leans on one another when times are down.
"We have to be a team. That's what makes it so rewarding for me," she said. "I don't treat wounds, but I support the nurses who do. It's an honor to support them in the work they do for the community."
Said Poole: "Sometimes ... we feel isolated and we realize each person is dealing with their own stress and there are times each day when someone can find a bright moment or we can take a moment to laugh at the silly situations we get ourselves into trying to help people."
Simple gestures of thanks, like cards and kind words, make the job worthwhile, Poole said.
"It feels nice when families send us a card ... or come in and say what a difference (the staff) made in their lives during a time of their greatest need," she said. "They'll say they couldn't do it without us. From my perspective, we have on our staff the most qualified people I've ever met or worked with."
And if the day comes when Poole needs hospice care, she already knows who she will turn to.
"I can't think of better people I'd rather have," she said. "I trust these people to do it right. I don't worry about that time."
Charles L. Westmoreland is managing editor for the Capital City Weekly.