Heart of the community

Hospice of the Red River Valley is preparing for a new hospice house in South Fargo, served by Cass County Electric Cooperative.


Kaylee Cusack


January 19, 2023

Two years ago, Tracee Capron was spending Christmas in a situation for which no mother is truly ready. She needed elevated hospice care for her son during the last moments of his life. As the executive director of the Hospice of the Red River Valley (HRRV), Capron knew intimately what a hospice house stay would mean for her family.

“I could not have done it at home. I needed support for my grandchildren. I also knew his symptoms were too out of control, and even as a nurse I couldn’t necessarily get everything I needed as quickly as I needed it,” Capron explained. “He didn’t want to be kept in a box in a hospital. He would literally go outside and watch snow fall every night. It was great. We were able to be a family.”

Capron has experienced firsthand what a hospice house provides a patient and their loved ones. That’s why she’s thrilled that a little over a year from now, HRRV will open the doors of the first freestanding hospice house in North Dakota, located at 3800 56th Ave. S. in Fargo.

The facility – named Heather’s House after Heather Butler, through a generous gift providing the naming opportunity – will have 18 beds with the capacity to serve more than 1,200 patients a year, along with their families. Ground was broken in May 2022 for the $28 million project, which will include 49,000 total square feet of patient rooms, common areas, child/teen-friendly spaces, a kitchen, a chapel, a library and much more. The house will be surrounded by water features, walking paths and natural spaces for a full “prairies to the lakes” feel.

Capron says Heather’s House was the next necessary level of service HRRV could offer to the communities in its 55,000-square-mile footprint across North Dakota and Minnesota. The community-owned nonprofit has already been providing hospice service in the region’s homes for decades.

A rendering of a Heather's House patient room (courtesy of Hospice of the Red River Valley)

“We are the people who will drive the 2-4 hours to see a patient and a family. It’s us or no one. We’re built on infrastructure to support rural farm America – truly the breadbasket of the country,” Capron said. “It is so important to support people in these rural communities, these farmers and businesses and others. We need to make sure people have the care they need to stay in those homes in those communities.”

Hospice’s goal is to allow people to remain at home. However, there are times a patient is faced with uncontrollable symptoms or a need for extra medical support. That’s where a facility like Heather’s House can offer a Medicare-certified space for an average five-day, five-night stay in a place with private rooms and a setting for every member of the family, at no cost. Heather’s House will be able to tailor itself to the wants and needs of the patient, whether that’s special foods, experiences, pets or requests as simple as a shower.

“Hospice is about living – it’s not about dying. It’s about finding how you can live every day as well as you can. We want to take all of our resources and everything we do and wrap them around your family to support you through this journey,” Capron said.

A multiuse space for hospice patient families (courtesy of Hospice of the Red River Valley)

HRRV is more than end-of-life care. Twelve percent of the organization’s population is graduated out of care, meaning their symptoms have improved and their life expectancy is no longer limited to six months. Bereavement services are also a large part of Hospice’s offerings, connecting with families, youth and businesses who have suffered a loss.

“I’ve worked in hospice forever, and I’ve seen the beauty of what it can do and how it can support the patient and the family,” Capron beamed. “It is powerful, it is humbling, and I’m grateful to be a part of that. I think we all are. In the work that we do, we are blessed every day by those that we serve.”

Community care

HRRV is a member of Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC), and Business Accounts Manager Chad Brousseau has served as Hospice’s point person for energy information for several years. Brousseau feels a special connection to the cause. His grandmother received hospice care and was able to pass comfortably at home with her husband.

“As we talk about the hospice story, my mind can’t help but see the parallels to the electric cooperative story; serving those underserved parts of rural America,” Brousseau told Capron.

“Amen, hallelujah,” Capron replied. “We were built that way and we, and our board, have chosen to remain independent and community owned for one reason alone. We knew we needed to serve these rural communities and we couldn’t be restricted.”

Chapel within Heather's House (courtesy of Hospice of the Red River Valley)

CCEC and HRRV have become partners on many levels, from energy support to fundraising support. Hospice’s current facility is on CCEC’s voluntary off-peak generator program, which saves the organization 25% on its electric bill. The employees of CCEC have also adopted Hospice as one of their featured nonprofits, advocating for Hospice in the form of fundraising efforts, discounted Aid-to-Construction costs for the new facility, and an employee-sponsored solar panel credit from CCEC’s Prairie Sun Community Solar array (which will be transferred to Heather’s House when it opens in 2024).

CCEC will be shining an extra light on Hospice for Giving Hearts Day on Feb. 9, hoping to help garner extra donations and volunteers. Capron says volunteers are always needed and will be especially important when Heather’s House opens. She adds that volunteerism isn’t just sitting at a patient’s bedside. Volunteers can bring their personal gifts of quilting, youth group assistance, delivering medication, tending to the grounds, even simply spreading the unknown story of what Hospice does – offering peace, comfort and joy.

“One of our primary core values is ‘Patient and Family First,’ which means community first,” Capron said. “And that’s really Cass County Electric’s core value, too.”

Brousseau nodded in agreement. “That’s why we’re here.”

MAIN IMAGE: A rendering of the reflecting pond planned outside of Heather's House (courtesy of Hospice of the Red River Valley)


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