Iowa City’s First Hospice Home: The Bird House Opens

Katherine, Tyler, and Lois Bird wecome guests to the Bird House hospice home in Iowa City.

NEAR THE END OF retired State Trooper Gary Bird’s battle with cancer, the 56-year-old needed a place to spend his final days. Options for end-of-life care were limited to hospice support at home or a nursing home. He ended up leaving his community in Iowa City and passed away at a nursing home in Kalona.

His wife, Lois, wanted others in a similar situation to have more choices. “Lois found it more than ironic that he couldn’t die in Johnson County,” says Carol Tippe, RN. So five years ago, Tippe, Lois Bird, and other community members started meeting to explore the issue. They studied residential hospice homes around the country and found less than two dozen, with none in Iowa.

In August 2015, the group secured a loan to purchase a home located in a peaceful, wooded setting conveniently close to downtown Iowa City. Community partners donated time, expertise, products, services, and funds. In April 2016, the Bird House, Hospice Home of Johnson County, opened its doors at 8 Lime Kiln Lane NE in Iowa City.

Visitors might assume that the house is named after the many birdhouses that inhabit the grounds. But it’s really named after the dedicated patrolman who served Johnson County for 29 years.

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The back porch of the Bird House.

The Bird House can accommodate up to five patients—referred to as “guests” at the house. They stay in bird-themed rooms: blue bird, hummingbird, cardinal, finch, and robin. Every bed has a donated quilt, and quilts also decorate walls and chairs. A living room with a fireplace, leather furniture, and beautiful artwork welcomes visitors. Guests can eat in a kitchen that always seems to have homemade cookies available for the taking. A walk-out basement includes an activity room, sitting area, and porch swing. A top floor includes further space for family and friends to relax. Other features include an open floor plan, two kitchens, two laundry rooms, and a medication administration area.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable here, whether they are guests, family, or friends,” says Tippe, who is the home’s coordinator.

“Comfort” is the optimal word. The Bird House is a residential home, not a skilled nursing home. Guests keep their hospice-care team, who come into the home to administer services. Bird House staff and volunteers give 24-hour comfort care such as meals, medication, daily living management, and bed care. They do not accept guests with intensive nursing needs such as IVs or feeding tubes.

Two family members or friends can stay with their loved ones overnight. Guests do not have to be from Johnson County.

“We love the setting,” says Tippe. “We want the house to be a home for guests and their families and friends so they can come and go.”

The cost is $175 per day ($100 per day for Medicaid-eligible guests). “Our future goal is for it to be free,” Tippe says. Donations of any amount are welcome. Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, such as cooking, maintenance, gardening, shopping, and professional services.

Tippe encourages people to come visit the home to experience the serene, compassionate setting for themselves.

For more information, visit The Bird House or call call (319) 499-1882.

For information about the hospice home in Waterloo, Cedar Valley Hospice, call 800-617-1972.