Growing up, Kim Oplet thought she would never follow in her mom’s footsteps and work at hospice.
But Oplet is doing just that and more now.
She serves as the Education Services Coordinator at Hospice of Southern Illinois, located in Belleville.
Hospice of Southern Illinois is this year’s recipient of the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce Merit Service Award.
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Hospice of Southern Illinois now serves 27 cities in southern Illinois and offers a wide array of services for individuals and their families facing the end of life. They also offer bereavement classes.
It started in 1981 as a grass-roots volunteer movement to help individuals and their loved ones with a terminal illness live their end-of-life journey with peace and dignity.
They continue that philosophy today.
This year, they are also focusing on educating the community about hospice care.
“I’m just a cog in it,” Oplet said.
Her mom, Donna Oplet, along with three other nurses helped Sister Mary Simpson, start the Belleville Hospice 35 years ago. The non-for-profit organization has since been renamed Hospice Southern Illinois.
“I never thought I was going to follow my mom’s footsteps,” she said. “But when I lost my dad (David Oplet) in 2000, that was kind of an eye opener.”
Her mom died six years later in 2006.
Shortly before her mom died, Kim moved back to Belleville from Maine, where she had been working in the cosmetic industry.
She doesn’t regret her career change.
“Every day, I am doing something so important,” she said. “It almost makes my ego as big as this room. But it’s not an ego thing. I can’t even describe it. But this is the most edifying feeling I have ever had. I have not felt like it’s a job one day.”
Oplet said her first goal when she started to work at hospice was to continue her mom’s legacy.
She has achieved that and is now creating her own legacy at the largest hospice organization in southern Illinois.
Oplet sees the magic that hospice offers it clients and families.
“A lot of people say it’s so sad what I do,” she said. “But I always tell them there is definitely some sadness that goes along with it. But I see the magic and support in that magic. I always tell people what is the worse thing that can happen by having extra support? Are we coming around too much? That normally doesn’t happen. When you have a life limiting illness, your symptoms are changing. They can change hourly, daily. Everything is subject to change. You are very vulnerable to a lot of things.”
Oplet said a number of people are afraid to ask someone who has a life-limiting illness or are dying how do they feel.
But that’s where she believes hospice helps their clients and families during these difficult and often trying times.
“We need to remind them they are more than that terminal illness,” she said. “They are so much more than that. Their life has much more meaning than that.”
Although most hospice organizations have similar philosophies, hospice providers are definitely not all the same.
Every hospice is a different company that offers varying services.
Oplet believes some of the qualities that set Southern Illinois Hospice apart from other hospices include:
▪ It’s the only hospice program in the region with a full-time medical director.
Dr. Ellen Middendorf focuses 100 percent on the Hospice patients, which is invaluable to families and staff.
“She already has an idea of what is going on because a picture has been painted when we get a referral,” Oplet said. “But she takes what she hears from the nurses and has to make certain visits.”
“Most people might think a doctor might make all of the visits. But it really is the nurses, social workers and Hospice aides,” she said.
▪ Its patient care, support and admissions, which are provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays;
▪ Their admission nurses provide immediate support and education for the patient and family;
▪ They provide hospice services to individuals of all ages and regardless of ability to pay; and
▪ The employees are committed to the whole family, providing support for the patient’s family as well.
Oplet believes she wouldn’t be able to do her job without the help of her co-workers.
But like all jobs, some days are harder than others.
“Some times you have to cry in your car before you go home or to the next place,” Oplet said.
Oplet, however, doesn’t find a day when her job isn’t rewarding, She cherishes the moments when she can spend with their clients and families.
“They are all amazing times,” she said. “Buf if I did it everyday, would I appreciate it as much? I don’t know.”
Oplet is a stronger person today.
“I have grown immensely,” she said.
Growing up, Oplet said her mom didn’t talk too much about her job.
“It was always something my mom just did,” she said.
But Oplet said she gained a deeper appreciation for her mom and hospice during the final stages of her mom’s life.
It was only then when Kim asked her mom what she did as a hospice nurse.
“And I apologized for being a brat,” she said.
Her mom also apologized to Kim for not always being there in her life.
But she also told Kim she couldn’t just say ‘no’ to her clients.
“I totally get it now,” Kim said.
“I totally get it...”