The recent announcement by Tennessee-based Compassus it was closing the doors of Woodruff’s Seasons of Life Hospice House has left many area residents upset and concerned. 
The facility, built from the ground up to be a hospice facility, opened in 2000. 
One of the “key players” in not only helping to make Seasons of Life Hospice House a reality but also a hospice program in the Lakeland area in the first place is Randi Danner. 

‘Lots of planning’
Danner worked at Howard Young Medical Center from 1979 to 1982, took a few years off for family, went back to Howard Young in 1991 and retired 25 years later. 
Danner’s final years with Howard Young was as its volunteer and community outreach coordinator.
“I was on advisory boards in between,” Danner said. “So, I’ve been involved through all of it.”
“It” is a hospice program for the Lakeland area and Seasons of Life. 
“We have a community that has supported hospice from the beginning,” Danner said. “I first brought the hospice concept to the area in 1979 or 1980 when hospice was really new in the country.”
At the time, she was Howard Young’s manager of social services.
Danner said there was a mid-winter meeting regarding hospice in those early years and 80 people showed up.
“You can imagine back then that was a huge crowd and they said ‘Yes, we need a hospice program in the area’ and we took it from there with a community committee,” she said. “Lots of planning, lots of stumbling blocks, but Dr. Kate Hospice was officially formed in 1985. It was a home care program which it still primarily is. They provide care for a patient wherever that patient lives in the area.”

Seasons of Life opens
Danner said several years after the Dr. Kate Hospice program was established and became successful, “we were able to approach a vision we had from day one in 1980.”
“‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could go be at a home and be cared for if they couldn’t stay at home?’” she said. “So financially, we approached the community, did a capital campaign and we were able to open Seasons of Life in 2000.”
Danner points out when someone refers to the eight room Seasons of Life facility as being built from the ground up as a hospice, “that’s very true.”
“It was very much meant to be home-like,” she said. “Every design decision we made, the thought was, ‘Would you do that in your own home?’ So, the idea was to very much make it home-like.”
The design approach was apparently successful as over the course of the past 21 years, since Seasons of Life opened its doors, Danner said she knows of so many people who went to Seasons of Life and expressed their feeling they were still in the Northwoods.
“‘This feels like home,’ they’d say,” she explained. “For some, this was the nicest place they ever lived.”
Danner said besides the facility designed in the manner it is, the staff provides specialized, end-of-life care for patients and their families “through that tough time.”
She said the hospice program is much larger than what a person sees at Seasons of Life; Danner said when she left the hospice volunteer program in 2019, there were 150 patients being cared for. 
“Seasons of Life is what is visible as far as what, in general, people see happening,” she said, adding the hospice idea can be confusing for people.
“We spent many years teaching people hospice was not a place,” Danner said. “It was wherever a patient lived. Then we built the place and people see ‘Seasons of Life’ and they think hospice.”
Beginning as Dr. Kate Hospice, over the course of the past 10 to 15 years, as Danner said has happened throughout the country, health companies such as Ministry got involved with its home care program followed by Ascension with its Ascension At Home hospice program. 
“It was an ownership relationship,” she said. “Now, Compassus owns the hospice program.”
The hospice program itself will continue, Danner said. 
It’s the Seasons of Life Hospice House that will close its doors.
“They (Compassus) are not going to continue to support staff and supervise/manage a program at Seasons of Life Hospice House,” Danner said. 
As for the future, she said she completely understands people being upset features at Seasons of Life such as its Memorial Garden will, as far as anyone knows, go away, but more important to her is the care people get at Seasons of Life Hospice House will no longer be there. 
“That resource won’t be available in the community any longer,” Danner said. “My mom died at Seasons of Life two years ago. The last two years of her life, she needed to be there.”
She said home care patients who die at home have resources, family members and support. 
“Maybe their condition is manageable enough they can be at home,” Danner said. “Even so, they always knew Seasons of Life was there just in case.” Some people, she said, might have to go to Seasons of Life Hospice House early in their disease process because they have no resources. 
“They don’t have family, they don’t have the ability to manage their home,” Danner said. “And for some, it’s that last weeks and months.”
‘Shocked to near tears’
Danner said she’s heartbroken with the decision to close Seasons of Life Hospice House. 
“Not for myself,” she said. “I’m a community member, too, and someday, I might need it and yes, I spent many, many years in the Northwoods working on hospice and it was a dream come true to build that. But I’m heartbroken for the community.”
Years ago, Danner said when hospice began, very little was known or understood about it. 
“Today, you’re having a hard time finding people who don’t know about it,” she said, adding when she heard Seasons of Life Hospice House was going to close, she was “shocked.”
“That’s the exact feeling,” Danner said. “Shocked to near tears from many of the people who’ve heard what’s happening.”
Part of that reaction, she said, is because people had a family member or a neighbor who was taken care of at Seasons of Life Hospice House. 
“The personal connection or they thought maybe when they got to that point in their life, that would be a resource for them.”
Danner said the community felt strong enough to support financially and build the hospice house and keep it going.
“People were able to stay there regardless of their ability to pay,” she said. “I’ve been in this community since 1979. This is a big community deal. It is and aside from my involvement. It’s very close to the community’s heart.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.