A family is gathered by Sally's bedside. Sally has been seriously ill, and now is likely near the end of her life. Her daughters and sons disagree about what should be done and what Sally would want. Throughout the course of her illness, Sally and her children never discussed what her care priorities should be in the final months and weeks of her life. Even in the final days of her life, these important decisions go unaddressed. This can lead to irreconcilable differences among Sally's family with the thought that they might have been able to do more.
Could hospice have made a difference in Sally's death? When a family is coping with a serious illness and a cure is no longer possible, hospice is a treatment choice that provides the type of care most people say they want at the end of life: comfort and dignity. One of the most frequent comments hospice professionals hear from families is "why didn't we get hospice sooner?" Hospice care is considered the model for high quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness. Hospice provides expert symptom management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to the patient's and family's needs and wishes.
The hospice team consists of the patient's personal physician and/or hospice medical director, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, bereavement counselors, clergy or other spiritual counselors, therapists and trained hospice volunteers. The team assists the patient in management of pain and symptoms; and the emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual aspects of dying. Hospice coverage provides medications related to the terminal illness, supplies and equipment. Hospice provides different levels of care depending on symptom management, caregiver coping, and the dying process.
Hospice affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice recognizes dying as a part of the normal process of living. In most cases, care is provided in the patient's home. Hospice care may also be provided in nursing homes such as PortagePointe or Houghton County Medical Care Facility, or at adult foster care homes such as Omega House in Houghton. Hospice services are available to patients with any terminal illness or of any age, religion or race. Medicare, the VA, private health insurance and Medicaid in Michigan cover hospice care for patients who meet certain criteria.
Let's go back to Sally, who is seriously ill with her family surrounding her, and rewind her last days. Sally has been in hospice for several months. Together, with the assistance of Sally's hospice team of caregivers, Sally and her family were supported and communication was facilitated as to what her treatment choices were to include. Hospice volunteers provided respite care for the family members to attend community and family functions. When Sally began actively dying, her family was aware of her wishes and they were comforted in knowing that her last days were as she wanted them.
Hospice providers can help with information about care options and choices and ensure quality of life for individuals and the family caregivers. As we begin National Hospice Month today I hope you'll take a moment to think about the way you feel about end-of-life treatment. For more information, contact Portage Health Hospice at 483-1160.
Editor's note: Marianne Berghefer is the hospice volunteer and bereavement coordinator at Portage Health Home Care &?Hospice.