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VICTORVILLE — A unique service for children in mourning has left a void in the greater Inland Empire, but one that may be filled soon.
The Mourning Star Centers has closed the doors of its three offices — in Victorville, Palm Desert and Riverside — and Sunset Hills Children’s Foundation has submitted a letter of intent to acquire the service.
An outreach of VNA California (a visiting nurse association), the program was never self-sustaining, President and CEO Mike Rusnak said. Surplus revenue from the core business of home health care supported Mourning Star, he said.
The one-of-a-kind service for counseling grieving children was a victim of the changing landscape of health care following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Rusnak said, with government sequestrations of or reductions in MediCare reimbursements and seniors changing to “senior advantage” plans.
“That created a significant impact on our ability to fund the outreach program,” Rusnak said.
The decision to close the nine-year-old program was a difficult one for VNA California directors, he said, but, “Hopefully we can find a group or groups that share this passion” to partner in the program or take it over.
“There is no other program like ours in the High Desert,” said former Group Coordinator Tracy Briant, who has moved out of state. “The families know how important it was for their children.”
Sunset Hills Children’s Foundation Marketing Director Jennifer Hernandez wrote in a letter of interest to VNA California’s Rusnak that Mourning Star’s closure adversely impacts the mission of Sunset Hills Children’s Foundation, which provides college scholarships to High Desert children who have experienced the loss of a loved one and offers a Teen Grief Support Group for high schoolers.
Hernandez said her foundation is interested in continuing the work of Mourning Star Centers and acquiring “all office and field equipment, supplies and inventory.”
Rusnak said his board has received inquiries from a number of nonprofit organizations and is scheduling meetings with them.
“We hope we can be a partner to Mourning Star going forward,” he said, to help assure quality and integrity of the service.
He said those seeking services from the program are being notified by mail and phone.
With Mourning Star offices closed for the summer, staff members were called to the Palm Desert headquarters on July 31 and given their final paychecks, former Victorville staffers said.
Because Program Coordinator Kristi Kasel had left weeks earlier for a job with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, only Briant and a handful of volunteers were affected by the local closure — and their clients.
“Our local center was here for about seven years and served about 120 families each year at absolutely no cost, and (with) no income qualifications,” Kasel said. “Any child who had experienced the death of a loved one was welcome.
“In addition, the center provided training and outreach about grief to local agencies and schools, including crisis support and how to cope after a death from suicide.”
She said the Victorville program had cost about $125,000 a year to operate.
Rusnak said all three Mourning Star Centers operated on about $650,000 a year. VNA California plans to continue its summer bereavement camp for children and its other outreach programs, he said.
Gary Brodeur may be contacted at 760-951-6245 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_gbrodeur.