This year has been their most challenging to date, according to Stepping Stone Hospice CEO, Tersia Burger.
Back in 2013, she honoured her dying daughter’s last wish to open a hospice facility in Alberton that would take care of people and their families who were facing life-limiting illnesses. At the time, neither Tersia, nor the rest of her then six-women steering committee, ever thought that in the four years that would follow, Stepping Stone Hospice would grow to the extent that is has.
“Life-limiting illnesses are a reality many of us have to face and the services we provide have become an integral part of the communities we live in,” says Tersia. In 2013, 97 registered Stepping Stone Hospice patients died. In 2016, 235 registered Stepping Stone hospice patients died – an increase of over 227%. This year, from January to end September, the number is already on 225 of their registered patients who have passed away.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of patients who are not covered by medical aid and this has had serious ramifications for us from a cost perspective. In fact, we are currently at a point where 83% of the patients we look after are unable to pay for their care,” Tersia confides. “We have always had a policy of care that serves all, regardless of the ability to pay, so we never have and never will turn a patient away.”
There is a perception that Stepping Stone Hospice is rolling in money, but this isn’t the case, says Tersia. “The truth of the matter is that while we receive generous donations from companies and members of the community, end-of-life costs are great and these donations are helping to keep us afloat. We have spent the last few months taking every cost-saving measure possible, while maintaining our core skills so that our quality of care remains the same. Much of the money we receive at the moment is quickly being absorbed into our operational costs.”
While the future vision of the organization is still to build a Hospice Village, with added facilities which will include, amongst others, an adolescent wing to care for young people who are faced with life-limiting illnesses, there are bigger considerations at the moment. “As long as the economic downturn continues and we see this pattern of patients who are unable to afford their care, our main focus and dedication will remain to them,” says Tersia.
“We are immensely grateful for the support of our community and fundraising team, who all work tirelessly so that we can continue with the work we do. We are heading into a tricky time as the Christmas season is traditionally the most difficult for us from a fundraising perspective as everything shuts down,” she adds.
Palliative care is a basic right and the core mission at Stepping Stone. “Our services to our patients and their families extend so much further than the norm and we will continue to help people ‘live’ until they die, as Hospice movement founder, Dame Cecily Saunders, so aptly put it. Stepping Stone Hospice is a true testimony to her words and will remain that way as long as our doors remain open.”
Picture caption: Looking back - When the foundation for the extension of Stepping Stone Hospice’s In-Patient Unit was poured in 2015, families and friends of past patients were invited to place photos of their loved ones in the foundation. Stepping Stone has since touched many more lives and faced many triumphs and challenges along the way.