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A ‘calming, caring presence’

After starting with St. Croix Hospice as a case manager servicing Albert Lea and the surrounding areas, Albert Lean Renae Horecka has recently taken on a new position with the company overseeing clinical operations for the entire Mankato and Bloomington areas.

Horecka said she started with the hospice organization in 2014 and in 2018 transitioned into the role of manager of clinical services. In January of this year, she became regional director of clinical operations, overseeing staff in the entire Mankato region — which includes Albert Lea — and in Bloomington.

Prior to starting with St. Croix, she said she was director of nursing at a nursing facility in Austin and before that grew her nursing career at Good Samaritan Society in Albert Lea for 10 years.

“From my experiences at the nursing home and those end of life experiences that you have there, and working closely with the hospice agencies that worked there, I appreciated what they did,” Horecka said. “I, too, wanted to be that calming, caring presence. It’s an honor to serve those people at the end of their life.”

In her new role, she oversees about 45 people, including staff such as registered nurses, social workers, chaplains and others who interact with patients. She spends three days a week at the Mankato office and two days in Bloomington. The regional area serves an hour radius on all sides.

The organization works with patients for end-of-life care, along with their families and provides nurse and aid services for the physical needs and activities of daily living. It also has social workers and chaplains for spiritual and psycho-social health.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Croix offered music and massage therapists, though those have had to be scaled back for safety precautions. She said the organization also has a bereavement team that follows families 13 months after the patient passes away.

During the pandemic, many things have had to be done differently for safety. St. Croix recently launched an in-touch family program, that allows families to connect with their loved ones virtually.

For facilities they are unable to get into in-person, they provide virtual administration to make sure the patients there are getting the services they need.

She said they have also seen a spike of patients who are choosing to stay in their homes for their hospice care, who are not wanting to separate from their families during the pandemic.

“Hospice care in the most part really didn’t stop or slow down,” she said. “We just had to get creative in how to deliver it.”

The company has started a Safe Care Promise program, which is its pledge to do everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That could include everything from COVID testing twice a week to ensure staff remain free of the virus, to daily temperature checks, wearing K95 masks, fit-testing for N-95 masks and wearing full personal protective equipment when with patients.

“We want to keep them safe,” she said.

St. Croix Hospice offers end-of-life care and advocacy across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.