National Hospice Month, Part 1: “I don’t want to read about dying!”
by Tammera Ryan
You are probably saying to yourself right now, “Why do I want to read this? Hospice is a scary word. I don’t want to think, talk, or read about dying.” Just so you know, I agree! However, I have been caring for patients and families for the last 13 years with Providence Hospice, and I would be doing them and you a huge disservice if I didn’t take this opportunity to help dispel some of the myths related to hospice care. Those patients and families have taught me a great deal about “LIVING!”
In 1992, the month of November was designated to raise awareness of hospice within the community. During this month, hospices across the country are reaching out to raise awareness about important care issues for people coping with serious illness.
Our staff has found that when meeting with patients and families, there are common misconceptions**:
Misconception: Hospice means there’s nothing more that doctors can do for you.
Truth: Hospice does not mean giving up hope. Hospice physicians are experts in pain management, symptom, control, and other techniques to relieve suffering. (Did you know that Providence Hospice is contracted with a massage therapist who can help patients?) The hospice team also includes nurse, aides, social workers, chaplains, and volunteers.
Misconception: Hospice is only for cancer patients.
Truth: That was the case when hospice started 40 years ago, but today more than half of hospice patients have other diseases and illnesses such as congestive heart failure, end stage renal disease, and other chronic diseases.
Misconception: Hospice is for the very last weeks or days of life.
Truth: Under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurance, hospice is available to patients with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less. If patients outlive that, they can often stay on hospice care or go off and come back on when needed. People sometimes live longer than expected because they get good comfort care by a team of professionals who view the patient as a person, not as a disease.
Misconception: Hospice helps you die more quickly and prevents patients from being able to talk or know what’s happening.
Truth: Hospice can open time and space for emotional connection, spiritual growth or accomplishing a goal. Hospice’s role is to provide comfort care and symptom management to support quality of life – not to hasten the end of life. Additionally, hospice doctors and nurses are up to date on the latest medications for pain and symptom relief and have a high success rate in managing pain to a level that is acceptable to the patient. It is the goal of hospice care for patients to be as comfortable and alert as they desire.
Misconception: Hospice is a place.
Truth: Hospice is a philosophy and a set of practices focused on comforting patients, supporting families and helping people live as fully as possible in the time they have left. It is true that most hospice services are delivered in a personal residence. However, hospice care can also be delivered in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Some hospice agencies do have dedicated in-patient facilities as well. (Did you know that Providence Hospice opened Providence Hospice Place, our area’s first and only in-patient hospice care facility? This is an eight-bed unit specifically designed to offer an intensive level of care for patients who are experiencing severe symptoms requiring daily interventions.)
Misconception: There are additional expenses when hospice gets involved.
Truth: Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurances cover all services, supplies, and medications related to the life-limiting illness. (Did you know that Providence Hospice is a not-for- profit hospice provider and has never turned anyone away due to inability to pay.)
Our team gets asked many, many questions and we are always happy to respond. With close to 20 years of providing expert hospice care in this community, the Providence Hospice staff is extremely knowledgeable and phenomenally compassionate while meeting the needs of our hospice patients and their families.
I hope that by reading this, you are not as frightened of the “hospice word” as you might have been at the beginning. I believe life is a journey; every breath is important. In the words of Dame Cecily Saunders, founder of the Modern Hospice Movement, “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life.”
I mentioned in the first paragraph how 13 years of working with the great staff, patients and families of Providence Hospice has taught me about “LIVING”. Several years ago I knew a man who had been diagnosed with a devastating disease. He had four children, the youngest of whom is my incredible husband. As I talked with my father-in-law about hospice care in his kitchen at a small wooden table he had built, he looked me in the eye and told me that all he wanted was to be kept comfortable – Hospice made that happen. He told me that I needed to cherish every day of my life and to always be thankful for what I have regardless of how much or how little that is. I made a promise to him that day. I told him I would “LIVE” every moment and be thankful for what I have…….. every day. I hope you will too!
Tammera Ryan has worked with Providence Hospice for the past Thirteen years. She has held various roles within the agency including Community Liaison, Executive Director, and Director of Business Development. She has been married for 27 years. Together, she and her husband have raised their two sons and are very happy to have welcomed a daughter – in- law into their family four years ago. Her favorite quote comes from Ghandi, “Be the change you wish you see in the world.”
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** Myths and Truths adapted from American Cancer Society brochure “Hospice: A Special Kind of Caring” and Fox News.com, “5 Myths About Hospice Care.”