Local Health

11/13/2012

Hospice offers care for whole patient

By BETHANY LEGGETT The Brunswick News

In September, the health community draws attention to prostate cancer awareness, and in October, pink-colored ribbons become a prominent symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Then there's November, when the nation highlights the services of hospice programs.

Hospice care covers several aspects of end-of-life treatment for persons with a terminal illness. Facilities use doctors and professionals to help provide physical comfort and pain management while also incorporating the patient's wishes on social, emotional and spiritual needs.

Amy Broderick, spokeswoman for Hospice of the Golden Isles, a nonprofit facility on Glynco Parkway that serves a five-county region, says hospice care covers several aspects of a patient's life.

"The hospice philosophy encompasses the whole patient - mind, body and spirit," she said. "We don't just care for the patient. We focus on the care unit, which includes caregivers and loved ones. It is a very special type of care."

For Darlene Strickland, chief operating officer and nurse at Hospice of the Golden Isles, providing hospice care means having someone available for a variety of tasks around the clock.

"Daily interaction with patients and their families range from helping to understand the disease process, managing symptoms, ordering medications, helping with financial issues to completing activities of daily living, like bathing, feeding or going for a walk," Strickland said. "We also help with light housekeeping to take some of the burden off of the caregiver. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help our patients."

Karen Mumford, spokeswoman of Heartland Hospice on Scranton Road, which is part of the national organization HCR ManorCare, says hospice care is different from other aspects of the health field.

"Hospice care neither prolongs nor hastens the dying process, but provides care to patients who no longer benefit from aggressive medical treatments," she said.

Often associated with hospice care, palliative care - relieving and preventing suffering - is also highlighted during the month.

"Hospice and palliative care are very similar and focus on 'comfort care,'" Broderick said, adding that the two are intricately linked, but there are some distinguishing differences.

For instance, hospice care is for persons with illnesses who are not seeking "curative care" and have a diagnosis of six months or less, Broderick said.

However, palliative care can be for anyone at any age or stage of illness.

"The goal of palliative care is to relieve suffering and provide the best quality of life for people facing the pain, symptoms and stresses of serious illness," Broderick said. "It can also be provided along with treatments that are meant to cure."

Because palliative and hospice care are not focused on curing the underlying disease, families are sometimes reluctant to start using hospice facilities, Mumford said.

"This may be one of the biggest factors in why families wait to use their hospice benefit. Although the concept of palliative care is not new, most physicians have traditionally concentrated on trying to cure patients. Treatments for the alleviation of symptoms were viewed as hazardous and seen as inviting addiction and other unwanted side effects," Mumford said.

Persons who work in the hospice field say the earlier families consider introducing hospice care, the better.

"We feel it is important for families and physicians to get hospice involved early, as we are better able to take away the burden of symptoms and pain so patients have a better quality of life and actually live longer," said Dr. John Shaner, chief medical officer at Hospice of the Golden Isles.

Focusing on the hospice community in November is good because it starts conversations with families about what hospice and palliative care encompass, people in the industry say.

"We are always striving to educate our community and to dispel the many misconceptions and myths about hospice and palliative care," Broderick said. "Having a month dedicated to these philosophies of care helps to put them in the forefront of people's minds and to start conversations about end-of-life care."

Mumford says the extra attention given in November allows Heartland "to normalize the dying process, while maintaining the mystery and sacredness of it."