Hospice Leader Loves Life



What you don't know about Vicki Dietz probably won't hurt you -- unless you're a cow.

"I'll bet people don't know I can rope a cow, or that I used to ride bulls," Dietz said.


Vicki Dietz

But at least one cow got the better of her.

"I tried wrestling steers, and that's why I have this cut in the middle of my forehead," she said. "A cow stepped on my face."

Dietz has always been physically active, playing rugby for nine years, as well as softball and golf. But her primary passion these days is for her career as regional director for the Payson and White Mountain offices of RTA Hospice and Palliative Care.

In fact, Dietz, who is a registered nurse, is a founding director of Rim Country Hospice, the organization that evolved into RTA Hospice.

"We started as a community-owned hospice, but now we're a privately-owned hospice," Dietz said. "Besides Payson and the White Mountains, we also serve some areas of Phoenix and Casa Grande."

A major myth that people believe about hospice is that it "comes in and gives people medications and hurries their death," Dietz said. "One of the tenets of hospice is that we are neither here to prolong nor postpone death."

Hospice, Dietz explains, is "an organization that serves persons who are diagnosed with a life-limiting, progressive illness that is not responding to curative treatment, or they choose not to pursue curative treatment."

The palliative care arm, she explained, is more focused on "persons who are diagnosed with serious illnesses or chronic illnesses for which they may still be seeking active treatment."

Through the services hospice provides, including physical, emotional, spiritual and financial support, it often ends up extending lives.

"We provide physician services, we provide skilled nursing services, we have nursing assistants who do the personal care, the bathing," she said.

"We have one doctor on staff and work with several others. We have social workers to help with emotional needs and to make sure people are getting all the resources they're entitled to in the community. We have full-time chaplains. And, of course, we have a plethora of volunteers."

When people who are helpless and hopeless come under the hospice umbrella, wonderful things can happen.

"When you're aggressively giving comfort care, their medicines are all in order so they're relieved of pain, they're eating better, they're not constipated, they're breathing better, people tend to live longer -- a lot longer," Dietz said. "Our intention is to give them the highest quality of life they can have for their remaining days, and if a by-product of our intervention is to make them live a little longer, so be it."

Actually, about 25 percent of all hospice patients get better and are discharged. That's a major reason why Medicare and most insurance companies cover hospice care.

"It saves so much money," she said. "The way we care for our patients keeps them from unnecessary hospitalizations. We do the services either in the home or in the nursing home."

Hospice also accepts patients who don't have insurance. "We are a charitable organization for persons with no insurance," Dietz said "We will still accept them, but that's where the Rim Country Hospice Foundation steps in and helps."

Despite the fact that Payson is a small town, the area's demographics suggest a great need for an active hospice organization.

"Our town is pretty fragile," Dietz said. "At least one-third of our service area is over 65. There's a lot of people who came here from somewhere else, who don't have children or family here, so they're aging and growing fragile. They need a lot of extra help."

Dietz empathizes with people who need help. Just after she and then-husband Bruce moved to Payson 17 years ago, tragedy struck.

"We came here in June of 1986," she said. "My husband was killed in a car accident in September of 1986."

Somehow she knew that she was meant to stay in Payson.

"The people were just wonderful," she said. "This is where I needed to be."

Dietz spent eight years as a school nurse, first at Julia Randall Elementary, then at Payson Elementary. When the hospice opportunity came along it seemed like a perfect fit; Dietz believes her experience facing the sudden death of her husband helps her relate to hospice patients and their families. "Maybe because I've experienced a sudden death I can better understand the emotions that people go through," she said. "Maybe that's what's given me the insight into persons going through a loss."

While Dietz's rodeo days are behind her, she's still an avid golfer and softball player. But she still remembers the first rule of bull riding: "The trick is to stay on."

Considering what she's been through and the care she provides hospice patients, that's not a bad metaphor for her life.


Name: Vicki Dietz

Occupation: Registered nurse

Employer: RTA Hospice and Palliative Care

Age: 52

Birthplace: Lubbock, Texas, but raised in Arizona.

Family: Husband Will E. Dietz, two daughters, three grandchildren. Also have a brother and my mother who live here in Payson.

Personal Motto: Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.

Inspiration: The power of people when they come together for something they believe in is inspirational to me.

Greatest feat: Building RTA Hospice

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Golf, fishing, softball.

Three words that describe me best: Energetic, passionate, forward-thinking.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Abraham Lincoln, and I don't know why. I just think I'd like to meet him, maybe because he's calm and I'm not. Or maybe Mae West.

Luxury defined: On vacation with a book where I can fish.

Dream vacation spot: On a beach -- any beach.

Why Payson? Payson was new and fresh and beginning. It just seemed like the right place to be.

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