Three decades ago, Vermont’s median age was roughly the same as the nation’s. The Green Mountain State is now, however, one of the oldest, and more of its aging residents are starting to make hospice care a pillar of their end-of-life plans.

To keep up with that rising demand, the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Southwest Region (VNAHSR), based in Rutland, Vermont, is planning to break ground next week on a 3,000-square-foot expansion project at its main office. The project—designed by architect Edward Clark with construction management and building by Naylor & Breen Builders—will be primarily funded through an $850,000 fundraising push dubbed the “Life’s Journey Campaign,” according to VNAHSR.

Plans call for a dedicated bereavement room for families, added interdisciplinary space for caregivers, a new resource library and a parking lot with 30 additional spots. While the main expansion is targeted for a June 21 start, construction on the parking lot has already begun.

“The expanded facilities will provide us with ample space for caregivers to meet for collaboration, but, above all, it will give us a space for a bereavement room [for family members],” Bernadette Robin, director of marketing and business development, told Home Health Care News in an email. “Hospice services do not end when a patient dies.”

Originally founded in Rutland, VNAHSR is a not-for-profit, Medicare-certified home health and hospice agency that delivers a wide range of advanced medical care to patients of all ages. With offices in Bennington, Dorset, Manchester and Rutland, it is one of the largest home health and hospice providers in Vermont, employing about 350 caregivers and support personnel overall. VNAHSR serves about 70 hospice patients “on any given day,” according to Robin.

The expansion project is a direct response to a rising need to provide more care, she said. In 2008, VNAHSR made about 7,000 hospice patient visits, a summary of expansion plans shows. That total spiked to roughly 12,000 in 2015 and has steadily grown ever since. Last year, more than 670 individual patients made the decision to seek end-of-life care through VNAHSR.

“This is partially explained by Vermont’s aging population and … a desire to spend the remaining days at home surrounded by loved ones,” Robin said.

So far, VNAHSR has raised about $200,000 as part of the Life’s Journey Campaign.

By 2030, nearly a quarter of all Vermonters will be 65 years of age or older, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. By 2030, the median age of the state’s residents will climb to 44, far older than the projected national median age of 39.

Vermont may be getting older, but it still has relatively low hospice utilization compared to other U.S. states. In 2016, for example, there were about 2,800 hospice patients in Vermont, according to CMS data. The only states with fewer patients that year were Wyoming and North Dakota.

Written by Robert Holly