Riding the last mile for hospital
By Peter Hirschfeld
Staff Writer | August 18,2013
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Motorcyclists ride through downtown Randolph on Saturday as part of the Last Mile Ride, which supports palliative care at Gifford Medical Center.
RANDOLPH — When a registered nurse approached administrators at Gifford Medical Center nine years ago with the idea of a motorcycle-themed fundraiser, it met with some skepticism.
“Initially we were questioning whether a motorcycle ride and hospital were a good pairing,” says Robin Palmer, communications specialist at the Randolph hospital.
Lynda McDermott persisted, however, and nearly a decade later, the annual Last Mile Ride has brought new vitality to a palliative care program that shepherds dying patients and their family members through the final days.
“It’s pretty amazing, because there’s a lot of flexibility around what we can use this money to fund,” says Dr. Cristine Maloney, an internal medicine physician at Gifford with a specialty in hospice and palliative care.
The event isn’t restricted to motorcycle riders, more than 100 of whom rode to a parking lot staging area Saturday morning to prepare for a scenic 87-mile group ride around central Vermont. The Last Mile Ride also features a 5K run/walk, and a 38.4-mile bike ride to Northfield and back.
This year the race raised a record $56,000. The money goes toward things like music therapy, massage, acupuncture and other nontraditional therapies for dying patients at Gifford Medical Center.
The funds are also used to throw last birthday parties, anniversaries or other milestones that arrive during patients’ final days. Many of those events occur in a special inpatient suite with French doors that open out onto a perennial garden.
“There are some major life events that happen in the Garden Room,” Palmer says. “People get married, have birthday parties. And the Last Mile Ride allows us to help families make those things happen.”
For a hospital of its size, Gifford devotes considerable resources to its palliative care program, with three physicians specializing in the field. Maloney says the range of therapies offered by the hospital — the services are also available to patients who opt to receive hospice care at home — can improve patients’ experiences in significant ways.
“They say it treats pain in a different way than medicine does,” Maloney says. “Or they feel like they can just kind of escape and relax for a period of time, which they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do.”
Maloney says she encounters misconceptions about what “palliative care” even is.
“Palliative care ideally starts at the time someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, not necessarily in the last 24 to 48 hours of life,” Maloney says. “There’s a connotation with palliative care of giving up, which is not accurate at all.”
Good palliative care, according to Maloney, is about “following someone along the journey to see where it takes us, to try to help along the way both the patient and the family.”
One of the higher-profile participants in Saturday’s bicycle ride says the effort recalled for him an organization founded by his late aunt, who helped raise more than $1 million over the last 10 years for the Lamoille Area Cancer Network.
Scott says the little things his aunt’s charity was able to do for people — purchase gas cards, help defray medicine costs — made huge differences in the lives of the recipients.
“And the Last Mile Ride seems to fall in that same category of caring for patients that are really going to benefit from the help,” Scott says. “And I just think it’s an especially important time, when someone is in the end of life, to make sure they’re supported and their families are supported.”