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HEALTHY LIVING: Deciding when it's time for hospice

By Donna Marrero

November 18, 2019

November is Home Care and Hospice month and it’s a good time to discuss hospice care and when it is appropriate. People often wonder when or if they should call hospice for help with a loved one. Too many people in this country die in pain or without assistance because they don’t know what hospice care is or they are uncomfortable talking about the end of life. Some have the misconception that if they choose hospice they are giving up and the choice hastens their death. The hospice philosophy is to actually grant a gift of comfort and quality to the remainder of their life.

Hospice care is a philosophy that focuses on patient comfort and quality of life rather than curing the patient’s disease. When given a diagnosis that may be terminal, options for curative treatment or comfort care are offered by a physician. If treatment is provided, there may be a time when the treatments are no longer working or causing ill effects that may be more harmful that the actual disease. The patient’s choice may be to stop treatment and then comfort or hospice care becomes an option.

A referral to hospice would begin with the patient and/or family’s permission to share information with a member of the hospice team. The hospice team includes a physician medical director, clinical staff that have specialized training in hospice -registered nurses, medical social worker, therapy, aide services, a bereavement coordinator and volunteers. The patient’s personal physician remains involved and active in the patient’s care. Hospice care is usually provided at the patient’s home but can also be offered at a skilled nursing facility or occasionally in the hospital setting. Hospice is a holistic approach to care which means that we care for the patient physically, emotionally and spiritually and include the family, friends and persons identified as part of the patient’s family unit.

Once a patient is determined to be appropriate for hospice, a personalized plan of care is developed which includes services to support the best quality of life. A registered nurse will assess symptoms and work with the patient’s physician to manage their symptoms and address any needs. An aide can assist with bathing, a physical therapist can evaluate for the right equipment to make the patient as safe and as comfortable as possible. A social worker can provide emotional support and resources such as transportation, financial assistance and funeral arrangements. Volunteers offer social support and activities and are great listeners. These services can provide both education and relief for the caregivers and encourage self preservation so they are able to have the stamina and capability to contribute to the care of their loved one. The expertise of the hospice staff provides reassurance and support to the patient and their family at the end of their life.

The stress of caring for a loved one can be overwhelming and is a very personal experience. Hospice can provide assistance to the patient and caregivers so that their focus can be to spend the rest of their days sharing quality time with those that are most important to them. Our hospice considers it an honor to help a patient or family and ease their burden in any way that we can.