Chris Dixon, Chastity Knight and Treasa Barrett mingle at the Hospice Awareness Lunch at Premier Hospice.
Hospice is more than traditional health care and means many different things to different people and each of their respective family members. For the patient who has struggled for years with pain or other symptoms, hospice may be comfort. For the patient who has fought a long battle with an illness, it may be dignity. For the patient with family trying to grasp for understanding, it may be peace. Finally, for the family honoring the wishes of their loved one it may be respect. Other families may find that hospice is about compassion or even about hope. Regardless, hospice is not about death or dying, as it is so commonly associated. Instead, it’s all about making the most of the time we have with our loved ones and honoring their wishes.
Hospice brings a holistic approach to healthcare which treats a patient physically and cares for the entire family’s emotional and spiritual needs. This care is led by a physician and supported with nurses, social workers, pharmacists, chaplains, volunteers, and even therapists in some circumstances. This talented team of individuals is trained to deal with many different challenges to help patients and their families find solutions to what may be difficult situations. The goal of the entire team is to help make those meaningful moments count while keeping the patient’s and family’s wishes and goals in mind.
Families often wonder when to have a discussion concerning hospice care. A discussion would be appropriate at any time when an individual is facing a life-limiting disease. This is not limited to only cancer diagnoses; Alzheimer’s, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and liver diseases are also among the top diagnoses of patients who choose hospice care. Hospice may be suited for anyone who has elected to change their focus from disease-modifying or curative to comfort and quality of life. Obviously, a discussion with your physician would be a great place to start.
Having worked in health care for several years, I have noticed these conversations are almost as difficult for health care providers as they are for patients and their families. However, these conversations can be rewarding and having them earlier in an illness allows for the patient, family, and health care providers to develop a plan for the future for how to provide care as an illness progresses. I strongly suggest patients have conversations early on when diagnosed with a serious illness, not only about hospice, but about what your expectations and wishes are as you continue to make meaningful moments in life.
I recommend families talk with hospice agencies and ask questions when selecting care. Families and patients need to explain their wishes and goals to the hospice and understand what services each agency provides. You may have to call more than one or two. As a health care consumer, you need to find the organization that best fulfills your needs. Friends, physicians, and community members may all have valuable input to help with the selection process.
When you contact an agency, request a meeting and conduct interviews to find the agency that best fits your needs and responds well to you and your family; remember, hospice services are about more than just the patient. In the next few years, hospices like other health care agencies will have online “compare” methods to help patients and families make informed decisions, until then, ask about their quality outcomes and response times to your area. If you are not comfortable with the answers or do not feel you fit well with the agency, keep shopping. Perhaps a hospice will not meet all of your needs, but, when you finish the interview process, you will have the information you need to select one that best suits you and your family.
Chris Dixon, Administrator, Premier Hospice