Foundation plans to expand Sentimental Journey program

Dan Brandenburg decided to take his grandson Ryder on his sentimental journey to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Brandenburg said his grandson would be too young to remember much about him

Since the East Pierce Fire and Rescue Foundation’s Sentimental Journey program was certified by the Pierce County Emergency Medical Services medical director last April, more than a dozen patients in East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s district have been granted a last wish before they died.

Now with a $10,000 grant from MultiCare Health System, the foundation can work on expanding this program to cover all of Pierce County starting in January 2016.

The Sentimental Journey program is funded by the foundation and comes at no cost to taxpayers; off-duty firefighters provide transport to hospice patients in a medic unit (paid for by the foundation) to a place of the patient’s choice, whether it be to lunch at their favorite restaurant with family, watching friends perform in a band or even getting married on Crystal Mountain.

“Every journey is a joyous experience,” said foundation President Teresa McCallion. “It’s important not only to the hospice patient and their families, but to the firefighters who participate and even the hospice workers.”

The reason the foundation organizes these last journeys, instead of the families of hospice patients, is because so much special care is required.

“They’re on hospice,” McCallion said. “These patients are so sick or have so much gear that they are unable to be transported in a private vehicle.”

So far, the foundation only had the resources and ability to organize journeys for hospice patients in East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s district, which covers Carbonado, South Prairie, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood and Milton, on their last journey.

But the grant money will go towards funding a part-time coordinator who can help the foundation train firefighters in other districts how to care for hospice patients and their equipment, so they can take hospice patients in their districts on journeys of their own.

Other departments will pay the foundation a small administrative fee to offset the cost of coordinating journeys.

McCallion said she has already entered into discussions with other Pierce County fire departments about their involvement with the program.

Once the expansion is complete and all 21 fire districts in Pierce County are participating, the Sentimental Journey program will be the only program like it in the U.S. to offer its services to an entire county.

There is one other program similar to Sentimental Journey, found in Colorado.

Expanding the number of fire departments that offer the Sentimental Journey program also means coordinating with more hospice programs. Currently, the Foundation coordinates with MultiCare/Good Samaritan’s hospice program, but as the program expands, McCallion said the foundation will start working with CHI Franciscan and Group Health hospice programs as well.

The grant money was to be given to the foundation during East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 17, but severe weather cancelled the event.

Due to schedule conflicts, the grant money is scheduled to be presented to the foundation Jan. 19.