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Hospice is help

Lisa To

What are your feelings about “hospice”? Have you ever had the experience of hospice being involved with a loved one? Was it a good or bad experience? Many people know about hospice. People seem to be glad to know the service is there. However, when it comes to using the service for themselves, people often push back, as if “hospice” is a bad word.

Here are some things to consider if you are wondering about whether or not to enlist help from hospice. First of all, if you’ve had or heard of a “bad” experience, please don’t let that deter you from giving hospice a chance. A plan for a patient’s care is highly individualized so someone else’s experience can be very different from what might be involved and needed in your particular situation. Agencies can differ in service standards also. Get facts for your situation. It’s a myth that hospice can help only with cancer situations. Any life-limiting illness can be appropriate for hospice, depending on the prognosis and treatment plan.

It’s a myth that hospice stops all medications and treatments. Hospice works with a patient’s primary care physician to assess what medications and treatments remain helpful for a patient’s condition, and the patient’s primary care physician remains the go-to for any orders needed. Hospice staff and volunteers make visits to provide guidance, relief, and to prevent crisis situations as an illness progresses. Hospice pays for all medications, equipment, and treatments related to why hospice is involved, easing financial and insurance worries. Caregivers often express finding life a lot easier having the help of hospice as an assistant navigator and advocate, available to call 24/7 with questions and concerns. It’s a myth that hospice kills people. Illnesses can lead to decline and death but hospice isn’t causing the illness. In fact, most of the time, patients fare better when hospice is involved if physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are being regularly tended to.

Patients are sometimes discharged from hospice care. And, it’s important to know that hospice helps wherever a person lives – nursing home, his or her own home, assisted living, dedicated hospice residences and in hospitals.

Patients and their loved ones have generally been through so much by the time they consider the option of involving hospice and often consider it late in the game, missing out on hospice’s many benefits that could have helped sooner and longer. Serious illness affects not only the ill person but that person’s network of loved ones as well. The focus of the entire hospice team is the patient and his or her family, their individual priorities, and maximizing their quality of life given they are all dealing with so much.

Where poking and prodding may have been the norm, hospice tries to eliminate painful or unnecessary interventions and focus on comfort, quality, joy, transparency, and help.

Important things to consider in choosing a hospice agency are after-hours response time and services available beyond the core services of the medical director, nursing, social work, and counseling by a chaplain or dietitian. For example, a hospice agency may offer massage therapy for both the patient and caregiver, physical, occupational, or speech therapy, and grief support services to name a few. Whether an agency is “non-profit” or “for-profit” is at the heart of the mission of a hospice agency, and an aspect that may be important to you. It never hurts to speak with a hospice representative for awareness of options available to help. A reality is most people wish they would have gotten hospice involved sooner. When faced with the reality of a serious illness, it’s better to be educated early on all options so you can choose wisely in the best interest of yourself and family. Knowledge is power and can greatly help one feel more in control when things seem beyond control.

Another myth is that hospice is sad. Human beings have a built-in natural and profound capacity for grace and hope. Hospice greatly assists in restoring meaning at the end of life, making sure patients have a say and those grieving have a sense of peace. While some of the realities of illness, aging, and dying bring melancholy and sadness, beauty and love in human existence often manifest themselves when we least expect it. Trust in the unexpected help, hope, and happiness that hospice can give. Don’t be afraid to reach out to hospice.

Lisa To, RN, is Executive Director of Hospice of Warren County

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