Louisa Walthers, who has served as executive director of Mount Evans Hospice and Home Health Care for the past 24 years, has announced plans to step down at the end of August.
Walthers, 54, joined the agency as its second director 24 years ago, only five years after it was founded. At that time, Mount Evans had a $300,000 annual budget and served three counties out of a two-room office in the Evergreen North shopping center.
Walthers will be leaving an agency with its own building, serving four mountain counties and operating on a $3 million budget.
“I am doing this with mixed feelings,” she said. “This is a wonderful organization where time and again we see unbelievable dedication among volunteers and staff so our hospice patients can face the end of life the way they want it to be, with comfort and dignity.
“Both our hospice and home health patients benefit from this incredible commitment to the mountain community.
“But I think it’s time to take some time off and then look for another adventure.”
Wayne Lundhagen, president of the Mount Evans board, said a search for Walthers’ replacement will begin immediately and that a staff transition team already is being set up to assure that all services operate as usual.
Lundhagen said the agency will be looking for a new executive director who brings the same kind of experience as Walthers, as well as “her compassion and commitment for serving the community.” The search will be led by a small team of community representatives and board members.
“Her experience and the strength she brought to the agency — through her attention to detail and the people she hired — greatly benefited the entire area by giving us a level of compassionate health care that would not have been available otherwise,” Lundhagen said.
Since joining Mount Evans in 1985, Walthers said, one of her biggest accomplishments was simply staying on top of the myriad changes in health care and the incredible growth in services needed in Jefferson, Clear Creek, Park and Gilpin counties. She said that was topped off by being able to acquire a permanent home for Mount Evans on Bergen Peak Drive two years ago.
“Thanks to the support from the community, that sets us up for the next 10 to 20 years,” she said.
Andy Ades, an area homebuilder who was board president when the new office was acquired and remodeled, said Walthers was “a tireless worker who was the heart of the organization.”
“She left no detail unattended,” Ades said.
He said she and the staff deserve credit for assuring that patient care remains at such a high level during a time when the economy and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates make things extremely challenging.
As the public focus remained on the hospice end-of-life service, about 80 percent of the organization’s services now are in other areas, particularly home health, in-home physical therapy and palliative care. The agency also provides grief counseling, including the award-winning Camp Comfort bereavement program for children, and a number of training programs.
Ades’ views were echoed by others who have worked with her in various roles. Dr. Fred Buchwald, medical director of the organization since its founding, commended Walthers for her focus on families and patients.
“She also seemed to want to make sure volunteers and staff were appreciated for what they did,” he said.
Peggy Fetchenhier, a longtime volunteer who has helped lead the agency’s holiday angel program as well as provide decorations for the annual gala and auction, said she saw a side of Louisa that others often missed. “She could be quite creative,” Fetchenhier said. “She enjoyed getting involved in the angels and the gala.
“The organization has been her passion and her life.”
“This continues to be an amazing place with an extraordinary group of dedicated people,” Walthers said. “I leave knowing that the work has been appreciated. Certainly I am proud of that.”