By Molly • 

Help for hospice

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterKim Greenleaf, who has been serving customers at Tommy s since it opened in 1977, carries a customer s meal. Greenleaf has volunteered at the restaurant s annual hospice fundraiser for 25 years.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterTommy Byers, owner of Tommy’s restaurant in McMinnville, along with his staff, has held fundraisers for Legacy Hospice for the past 25 years.

Tommy Byers remembers well when he first learned about hospice care.

His grandfather was in the McMinnville hospital. Diagnosed with kidney failure, he was given just seven days to live.

“My family had never faced anything like this before,” Byers recalled. “We wanted to take him home, but we were scared to.”

They were told they could take him to a nursing home, but a nurse also gave Byers’ family a telephone number for hospice. It was his first introduction to the organization and he was amazed.

Hospice staff brought a bed to the family’s home, asked about work schedules and stayed with the dying man when family members couldn’t.

Byers’ family had quickly transitioned from not knowing what to do to having someone to help.

After his grandfather died, Byers realized he had met many new people from hospice. He had also discovered the ways hospice helps individuals and families through death.

One of his new contacts was Lea New, the local hospice program’s co-founder and a long-time staff member.

New asked Byers if hospice could hold a breakfast fundraiser at his restaurant — Tommy’s, located on the north end of McMinnville on Highway 99W — in conjunction with Turkey Rama.

The timing has since been changed from July to November, which is National Hospice Month. It’s held on a Sunday, when Tommy’s is typically closed. 

“It’s actually more successful,” he said of the November date.

Byers’ employees donate the labor and he donates the food, so 100 percent of the take that day goes toward hospice. In addition, he places a donation jar out and watches people drop $20 bills into it.

Last year, special aprons were made for the event. They were embroidered with “Pay it forward benefit breakfast” and presented to Tommy’s staff by hospice.

Hospice staff members also come in to help, greeting people, serving water and coffee, washing dishes and even taking money.

“It’s so unorganized, so crazy, so chaotic and so fun,” said Byers, flashing a big smile.

This year’s event raised $2,100. While he’s never kept records, Byers said the take started around $1,000 and has been growing ever since. 

Kathleen Derrickson, the registered nurse heading the local hospice, said the staff is in awe of the commitment Byers and his crew have shown in making this happen every year for a quarter of a century. “It’s such a fun event,” she said. 

Derrickson said businesses like Tommy’s have assisted the program in a big way. She said other major benefactors in the business community include Oregon Mutual Insurance, whose employees often choose hospice as a charity of choice, and the Yamhill County Association of Realtors, which recently held a fundraiser that included hospice as one of its beneficiaries.

While hospice does qualify for coverage through public and private sector health insurance programs, including Medicare, there are ineligible items such as palliative radiation and lung draining that can run thousands.

“At Legacy Health, we have a commitment to serve the community and provide service, even for those that aren’t able to pay,” Derrickson said. “We have to find ways in our budget to provide services above and beyond.” 

For Legacy Hospice, the Legacy Good Samaritan Foundation provides the safety net. “We’re pretty fortunate to have strong foundation support,” Derrickson said.

Legacy, which operates locally out of an office on McDaniel Street in McMinnville, covers Yamhill, Clackamas and Washington counties, plus portions of Polk and Marion.

It averages about 65 clients at any one time.

The length of time in hospice can be anywhere from a day or less to more than a year. The average is two weeks.

Although the stated admission criteria is a terminal medical condition with a life expectancy of six months or less, Derrickson said making that assessment is by no means an exact science. 

Hospice provides care to help dying patients live out their remaining days comfortably, often in their own homes. It also supports the patient’s family in its time of need.

For Byers — who has operated Tommy’s for 36 years — the event is rewarding. It provides him and his staff an opportunity to show gratitude to hospice for its service to the community.

“The day for us is a feel-good day,” Byers said. “We’re helping somebody.

“It’s been a privilege for me to help hospice. They do things for our community that most people don’t know.”

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