By Gemma Long
The goal of hospice care is to focus on quality of life for every patient. As a team, hospice works to enhance this quality of life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a comprehensive and coordinated program, offering compassionate care to terminally ill people and their families at the end of life. Hospice care can take place anywhere a patient calls home — their own home, a nursing home, or an assisted living or other long-term care facility.
Some individuals confuse the distinction between hospice and palliative care, says Deb Whitson, registered nurse and hospice clinical supervisor for Memorial Home Services Hospice. “Palliative care is symptom management, or comfort care, during all phases of care whether in treatment or not, where as hospice care is comfort care when cure is no longer an option. In other words, all hospice care is palliative, but all palliative care is not hospice care.”
Families who choose hospice care receive a variety of services. In addition to care for the patient, programs such as grief support and volunteer services are designed to help families and their loved ones throughout their hospice journey.
There are significant advantages to referring a patient to hospice care early, says Deb.
“There are lots of advantages really, but the main thing we see in the early referral of hospice care is that patients have an increased quality of life and better pain symptom management. When hospice care begins earlier rather than later, we are able to develop a rapport with the patient so staff are better able to identify how to help them as the patient’s decline progresses. We can manage their symptoms as soon as they begin, in fact we try to anticipate their needs and get medication to our patients, and provide them with more support during the process.”
It’s not just the patients that benefit from early referral, but friends, family and loved ones also.
“We can do a lot with the family; discussing what will happen and what to expect. We can alleviate anxiety and do a lot to help them prepare for the process,” says Deb.
There is nothing worse than going to admit a patient to hospice who is going to be with you less than 24 to 72-hours, because there is no time to establish a rapport. The family has got to be able to trust you; you have to develop a rapport with them too.”
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, as much as 35% of patients are in hospice care seven days or less.
It is often difficult for families to come to grips with the need for hospice care of a loved one. A lot of people think of hospice care as giving up and that the patient has to be actively dying to receive care, says Deb.
“However, we consider hospice care as a gift of quality of life at the end of life; enabling the patient to remain home for their final weeks or months, close to family and friends. It’s a gift of support and comfort.”
“Traditionally, end of life care has not been something of focus in medical training. In reality, hospice care should be considered an important part of the continuum of healthcare that is offered to patients. Just as we provide prenatal care to the unborn child, we should also be as diligent to provide end of life care when a cure is no longer an option and patients are terminally ill. Until end of life care is recognized as a part of the continuum of healthcare, we will continue to see late referrals,” Deb says.
“As soon as a patient stops curative care, it is beneficial to the family and patient to receive hospice care, especially when we are looking at it in respect to the continuum of care,” says Deb.
“There tends to be a hesitancy if the patient doesn’t feel completely sick yet and, actually, we encourage the patient to be as active as they can for as long as they can. Some people have a preconceived notion that hospice care is someone lying in bed, giving up with no hope and that’s so incorrect.”
“We want to see people come to us early so we can focus on quality of life — they can spend time with their family. We even find some patients feel better when they begin hospice care. Their symptoms and pain are managed and controlled, and we’re focusing on their emotional and spiritual needs, in addition to the medical aspect of care.”
“We take a holistic approach; some patients really do start feeling better. What is really unique to hospice care is that you don’t find other programs in health care that take such a holistic approach with a multi-disciplinary care team.”
Memorial Home Services Hospice not only provides support to patients’ families during hospice care, but also after the patient has passed away.
“We also provide bereavement services for loved ones for 13 months after the patient’s time of death,” says Deb. Monthly calls and milestones in the bereavement process are monitored and family members are offered support through chaplain visits, counseling and grief care and support groups.
The extensive hospice care team includes medical directors, registered nurses, home health aides, medical social workers, the chaplain, trained volunteers, the bereavement coordinator, dietician, and therapists. Memorial Home Services Hospice is an affiliate of Memorial Health System, synonymous with high quality care.
“We are also a National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) quality partner; we follow Medicare guidelines and serve 14 counties with five different hospice teams. We also have a very robust volunteer program,” says Deb.
Trained volunteers perform a number of tasks, which provide support for our patients and their families, from sitting with a patient while caregivers require respite, run errands for caregivers, and help with bereavement phone calls.
“We even have a volunteer with a certified therapy dog. He brings the dog to visit patients, which they love. Our volunteers are carefully vetted and go through our training program; they are a fabulous group of people. Some have even trained in Reiki. Our volunteers are a huge draw for our program; our volunteer services are phenomenal,” Deb says.
“Without fail, everybody on the team has a story that brings them to volunteering or working for hospice. Most of us have had a friend, or family member that has been through a hospice experience — we have a passion for providing this type of care experience. So, for us it’s not a job, but a mission.”
You can find out more about Memorial Home Services Hospice by calling 217-788-4663 or 800-582-8667, emailing MemorialHomeServices@mhsil.com or visiting www.memorialhomeservices.com/Hospice.
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