Warren County Hospice hosts guest speaker

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Hospice of Warren County held a celebration of 40 years of providing care on Monday. The event was marked with dinner, dessert and speakers. Dr. Ric Baxter was the guest speaker at the event.

Dr. Ric Baxter, a national leader in Hospice and palliative care, shifted gears multiple times on Monday as he pedaled to the Warren area to celebrate a milestone and spread his message of shifting from a negative perception of the end of life to a positive experience.

Hospice of Warren County held a celebration of 40 years of providing care on Monday. Baxter was the guest speaker at the event.

Baxter left his home in Bethlehem, Pa. on Sept. 2 to kick off a bicycle tour the length of the state to raise awareness of end-of-life care. It has been deemed the “Don’t Wait Tour.” The total distance of the tour is 1,056 miles.

Baxter told the crowd gathered on Monday evening that he listened to himself. “I took a look at my own life,” he said. “I’m 68. I’m not retiring. Taking time off isn’t something I do easily.”

“I don’t sit well. I like to do things. I own a bicycle,” he said. “Taking a month off is something I’ve never done but, I thought, don’t wait. Do it now.”

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Hospice of Warren County held a celebration of 40 years of providing care on Monday. Dr. Ric Baxter, a national leader in Hospice and Palliative Care, was the guest speaker at the event.

He spent most of his career as a family physician. “I got into Hospice gradually,” he said. He currently works for St. Luke’s University Health Network. During his career, he has had a multitude of patients and family members ask him when to take certain steps related to their care. He said he tells them, “Don’t wait. Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to look like.”

Baxter said many of the questions raised to him stem from a fear of death and misperceptions of end-of-life care. He recalled a question posed to him from a woman he’d never met before.

He was out to dinner with people he didn’t know. “The woman across from me looked at me and said, ‘so, what do you do?'” he said. He replied that he was a Hospice and palliative care physician. “Oh, that must be so hard,” the woman replied. “No, I really like what I do,” Baxter told the woman. Baxter praised the work done by many staff in end-of-life care. “It’s important and meaningful,” he said. “I feel good about what we do.”

As Baxter spreads his “Don’t Wait” message, he also serves as a resource to help people understand what palliative care and Hospice care provide.

Doctors can provide treatment to seriously ill patients in the hopes of a cure for as long as possible. These patients may also receive medical care for their symptoms, or palliative care, along with curative treatment.

Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness. Palliative care can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided from the point of diagnosis.

In addition to improving quality of life and helping with symptoms, palliative care can help patients understand their choices for medical treatment. The services available through palliative care may be helpful to any older person having a lot of general discomfort and disability very late in life. Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment and does not depend on prognosis.

At some point, it may not be possible to cure a serious illness, or a patient may choose not to undergo certain treatments. Hospice is designed for this situation. The patient beginning hospice care understands that his or her illness is not responding to medical attempts to cure it or to slow the disease’s progress.

During Monday’s celebration, former Hospice Director Elsa Redding, who served from 1985 to 2013, noted many changes but one constant — the commitment of the staff, volunteers and supporters throughout the years.

Current Executive Director Lisa To, acknowledged her “great fortune in following Elsa” and expansions of bereavement services and establishment of the Schorman Center.

As To introduced Baxter to the crowd, she noted the impressive distance of Baxter’s first long-distance bicycle tour. “He’s doing it by bike. And he’s not even running for office,” she joked.

Baxters tour includes stops in Erie, Meadville, and Franklin. “I’m getting the chance to see communities and stay in people’s homes,” he said. “Now people are being connected through a stream of stops.”

Along the way, he will visit other hospice houses, hospitals and medical schools, where he will share words of inspiration and insights from his decades of experience providing end-of-life treatment.