Hospice Care—What is it Really?

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By Lisa Conway, MSW, LSW, and Bereavement Coordinator for Celtic Healthcare of Northeast PA (Hospice Community Care)

Through my work as a social worker with Hospice Community Care, a division of Celtic Healthcare, I have learned a lot about death, dying, and grief. In working with hundreds of families and talking to many in the community, I have realized that people do not fully understand what exactly hospice is. When I think of hospice, however, I think of compassion, love, dignity, and quality of life. I know that there are many myths that are floating around out there and my hope is that through writing this article, I can educate the community about the benefits of hospice and help people to understand that hospice is all about making your loved ones comfortable, pain free, and hopefully supporting you and them so they can die with dignity and peace.

First of all, hospice can be traced back to medieval times. Hospices were shelters that were meant for travelers who needed to stop off on their journey because they were tired, ill, and/or just plain weary. In 1967, the term was first used by Dr. Dame Cicely Saunders to refer to the specialized care given to dying patients. Dr. Saunders founded the first hospice, St. Christopher’s Hospice, in London,England.

Hospice consists of a team of professionals from different specialties who coordinate and provide a variety of services and care to the patient and their family. Yes, I said, “AND their family”. As hospice specialists, we believe it is important to support the family during this time in order for them to work through the upcoming loss. The hospice team consists of Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nurses Aides, Chaplains, Social Workers, Admissions Directors, Bereavement Counselors, Volunteers, and many, many more people behind the scenes. The team members make ongoing visits and assess the patient and family to determine their needs. Whatever those needs are, we do our best within our capacity to help meet those needs.

Who can have hospice services? Many people believe that one has to have been diagnosed with cancer to get hospice services, but this is not entirely true. Most times people cringe when they hear the word “hospice”. People think that a person has to be literally on their “death bed” in order to get services, but this could not be further from the truth. A person can qualify for hospice services if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a prognosis of six months or less to live. Let me make one thing clear, there is no limit on how long a person can be on hospice. The team makes ongoing assessments to make sure the patient is still appropriate for the service and qualifies under their insurance. Some of the diseases that we see in hospice are: End Stage Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Chronic Lung Disease (i.e. COPD), Renal Failure, all different Cancers, End Stage Cardiac Diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and more.

Where are the services provided? Hospice services are provided wherever the patient is. That includes the patient’s home, a personal care home, assisted living, and yes, even in the area nursing homes. Hospice provides any medical equipment the family needs to take care of the patient as well as some select medications related to the patient’s diagnosis and pain issues. All of these are overseen by the Registered Nurse and the treating physician.

The ultimate goal of hospice is to help provide the patient with some quality of life for whatever time they have left. Those whose family members have been on our hospice and died most frequently comment that they wish they had gotten their loved ones on the program sooner. There are multiple benefits to one going on hospice early in receiving their terminal diagnosis. One is that pain can be managed much more efficiently if it is taken care of earlier. Also, the earlier the person gets on the program, the more time they have to bond with the hospice team, empowering the team to anticipate the person’s needs much sooner.

I will say that I have never worked for a more amazing cause or with people with more dedication to the people that they serve. In the upcoming weeks I will be doing talks at some area churches in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, PA areas. If you would like me to speak for your group, feel free to contact me at info@celtichealthcare.com.

It is good to educate oneself about what is available in the community. Please do not forget to discuss your concerns with your physician.

This article was originally published in the Moscow Villager on June 6, 2012.  Visit their site at:  http://www.moscowvillager.com/