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New Hospice Director Has a Passion to Help People Die Well
Sunday, May 21, 2023


Allison Collins worked for years for IBM. But she found her calling as she watched her mother die of breast cancer.

“She did not die well,” she said. “Watching her suffer, I told myself: I’m going to hospice. We need to provide people like her who are facing their own mortality more help, more care.”

Collins, who goes by “Alli,” has brought that mission to the Wood River Valley as the new executive director of the Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley. She is replacing Lisa Wild, who left to pursue a degree in Nursing Education.

Collins is thrilled and humbled to be part of the organization and the Wood River Valley.

“I’m excited about this organization and what they’ve done here. It’s the only hospice and palliative care in the nation that does what it does, and it’s a beautiful model. Of course, the only way it works is because the community supports it,” she said.

The Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley is one of only two in the country that rely solely on private funding. Because it doesn’t receive insurance or state money and because it is not limited by Medicare restraints, it can provide patients and their families with more personal care for a longer period of time, said Lynn Campion, vice president of the organization’s board.

It also is able to offer services it would not otherwise be able to offer. And it’s able to serve individuals who are not looking at imminent death but just need a little extra help with things so they can stay healthy and stay in their own homes.

Case in point: An 87-year-old woman who is one of hospice’s 61 volunteers. At 87 she visits with patients in their homes, reading and chatting with them. She also makes occasional donations to hospice. In return, a hospice volunteer visits her once a week to help fill her pill box, doublechecking the fine print on prescription bottles to make sure the woman is managing her medications properly.

“How beautiful! She’s supporting us and we’re helping to support her,” said Collins. “It’s a beautiful cyclical thing. But she wouldn’t qualify for the assistance we provide under Medicare guidelines. We don’t want to be just about dying. We’re about supporting aging in place, helping people stay in their homes. Not only does everyone deserve to die well; they deserve to find a way to live while managing a life-limiting illness and other challenges.”

Collins spent the first 35 years of her life in southern California. She worked for IBM for several years but became disenchanted with the high-tech world. She took an organic chemistry course and loved it so much she decided to study nursing.

Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer just before her last semester of nursing school.

“She was a health administrator who knew how to navigate home health care, but she did not get the care she should have. I was working on the oncology floor when one of my high school friends was diagnosed with melanoma at 35; she died 11 months later. Watching her suffer, I said: I’m going to hospice.”

Collins worked in Evergreen, Colo., for nine years where she learned that she loved living in a small mountain town. But she loathed the 35-mile commute to Denver, especially in winters when I-70 was often closed.

She moved to Eagle, Idaho, in 2018 to work in clinical leadership and training for Pennant, which oversees a few hundred hospice, home health care organizations and assistive living facilities. And she fell in love with Sun Valley on weekend camping, hiking and snowshoeing getaways with her daughter, a high school senior who wants to go into nursing.

“First time I came here I thought, ‘Whoo!’ I need to move here,” Collins recounted.

Holland will become an official Ketchum resident in mid-June—as soon as work on her townhouse is finished. And she wants to see how her staff of six, which includes an office manager, social worker and three nurses, can reach out and touch more people.

“I believe we’re underserved right now, based on the population. How can we rev it up? We have to be mindful as we’re short staffed but there must be things we can do.”

Collins notes that when someone gets pregnant doctors develop a plan for them and request them to return for monthly checkups.

“It would be nice if we did something like that with people who are facing death,” she said. “But we don’t do that well in this country. I am passionate about helping people die well.”

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