Hospice care isn’t for everyone. Hospice care provides compassionate care and comfort to individuals who are terminally ill. It does not attempt to prolong life through continued medical treatment. Instead, hospice care helps patients live as fully as possible until the end of life.
Not so long ago, people were much more acquainted with death. When Grandpa died he was surrounded by loved ones in the old, family home. His body was lovingly prepared for viewing in the parlor before the funeral and burial in the village cemetery. Of course, the family was sad; but it had done its best to care for Grandpa through this last phase of his life and it was comforted by how peacefully he departed.
In contrast, observed Joe La Fleur, these days most of us rarely interact with the dying or see the deceased. That is one major reason why hospice services are so important. “99% of people feel overwhelmed by caring for the dying,” explained La Fleur, interim manager of Wockner Hospice Care Center (Evergreen Hospice) in Kirkland. “We’re simply not around it.”
How hospice works
The hospice team, which includes specially trained doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists and volunteers, works with the family to develop a flexible care plan to meet the individual’s needs.
One old concept of hospice was that patients stayed in a facility for months and then passed away. But there are simply too many people of all ages, more than a 1,000 people at any given time in our area, who need hospice care. While Evergreen Hospice can accommodate up to 15 patients, La Fleur underscores that it is not a permanent home for people who are dying.
“Most people only stay at this building 3-4 days and go back home or to an Adult Family Home,” said La Fleur. “They come here because they are in crisis with medications or breathing and need more 24-hour, high-level care.”
Another misconception about hospice is that Medicare provides 24-hour care every day. That model is unrealistic and unnecessary, said LaFleur. The basic concept of hospice is that patients stay at home and the family takes care of them. Hospice helps with support, medications, equipment, nursing visits up to 2-3 times a week, social worker visits for emotional support and bath aides three times a week. In addition, volunteers add all sorts of variety and enrichment to hospice patients. They may come in and provide company for the patient and respite for the family caregivers. They may do a little cooking, share meals, listen to stories, take walks, play games, provide pet therapy or even make music – whatever comforts the patient.
Learning about hospice
Returning to the reality that most of us have little experience caring for the dying, La Fleur shared one of the first and most important services the staff and volunteers offer. They do a lot of “hand holding” and educating patients and families about how to do what needs to be done as gracefully as possible.
“We are more consultants who teach how to keep loved ones safe and clean, what medications are for and how/when to administer them,” said La Fleur. “We are there to guide and comfort the entire family.”
For more information:
Evergreen Hospice 12822 124th Lane NE, Kirkland, WA 98034; www.evergreenhealth.com/starting-hospice-care
For all questions, please call 425-899-1040
What has been your experience with hospice care?