Virginia DeWitt lived a good long life. She raised five children. She loved cooking, gardening and creating art. In her later years, the tables turned, and, instead of caring for her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, she needed care herself. As her health declined, it became more difficult for her to live alone. Eventually, one of her daughters, Joyce DeWitt, gave up her job and became a full-time caregiver for her mom. Five years of constant care took its toll on Joyce, even with the assistance of home health care workers.
Few things are more difficult than preparing for a loved one’s end of life. It is both physically and emotionally exhausting. Hospice care can help in many ways, providing in-home care as well as inpatient care to end the transition.
JoAn Rose, Virginia’s other daughter, said the home health care workers advised the family that hospice care could provide more specialized care. When it became clear that the end was near, the family chose to have Virginia admitted.
“We knew Mama was not going to last very long,” JoAn said, adding that Virginia needed more care than Joyce could provide.
An ambulance arrived to transport Virginia. The family followed to make sure she got settled and make the most of her time.
Fallon Rose Lawson, Virginia’s granddaughter, knew her “Nana” was in good hands.
“They were friendly and very helpful,” Fallon said. “They were caring and sensitive to the fact that we were going through a hard time.”
Designed to help families through the most difficult of times, hospice organizations offer a variety of services including palliative care to manage pain and symptoms, respite for caregivers who are often in danger of burnout and emotional support before and after the bereavement. Some offer a memory care program for patients with dementia. Most physicians suggest that families familiarize themselves with the hospice concept and that they enroll early.
Hospice care has recently grown in popularity, and many more organizations offer these services. In the past, medical care – including extreme measures to keep patients alive – meant that most very ill people spent their last days in hospitals, rather than at home. Today, upon physician recommendation, patients with advancing terminal illnesses or a life expectancy of six months or less can receive quality medical care from a team including doctors, nurses, hospital aides and dedicated volunteers. Patients are kept comfortable and pain free. Unlike home health care services, which focus on recovery and rehabilitation, the purpose of hospice care is not to treat the illness but to subdue pain and other symptoms of illness. Every effort is made to ensure that the patient’s wishes are met.
Hospice also provides bereavement care for families. The death of a loved one is never easy, and many people find that support groups help to ease the grieving process. There are groups for families as well as for individuals. For children, programs include a weekend camping experience at Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island. Twice yearly, kids between 6 and 15 years of age can attend this beach camp to remember, laugh and cry with others who have lost a loved one.
“Once she was there, she wasn’t doing well enough to engage in any activities, but they kept her comfortable until she passed,” Fallon said about her grandmother. “I think she was there either three or four days.”
The peaceful surroundings helped the family cope – there was even comforting music. It was a relief to know that Virginia was receiving excellent care.
“They did have a lovely piano in the lobby that everyone could hear from their rooms,” Fallon remembered.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT HOSPICE
Some states require a certificate of need in order to open a hospice facility. South Carolina is not one of those states, so hospice organizations have proliferated over the last few years and that can cause confusion for families. Whether for profit or non-profit, all hospices are mandated by law to provide specific services, including but not limited to skilled nursing, physician services, necessary equipment as well as respite services. So, how do you choose? Here are some tips:
- Is the hospice is Medicare certified?
- How long has the organization served the community?
- Ask friends for references
- Who are the physician directors?
GOOD TO KNOW
No one can be turned away. Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance covers hospice care.
Although there is no way to predict when death will occur, your physician and the hospice medical director generally must agree that the patient has six months or less.
You must choose to receive hospice care rather than curative therapies, although there can be exceptions to alleviate pain.
All hospices must offer mandated services but there may be differences in how services are offered.