Living and Growing: It's never too early to think about Hospice

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's not easy to think about the time when you or a family member may face life-limiting illness or injury. But dealing with end-of-life issues need not be a lonely or confusing process-Hospice and Home Care of Juneau can help. "We're very good at helping people see what's possible," said Kim Redifer, Hospice and Home Care program director. "Our staff is experienced and well-trained in providing medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support that are expressly tailored to a patient's needs and wishes."

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People who are homebound with illness or injuries requiring skilled nursing care can be considered for services under Home Care, Redifer said. People who have a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live (whether or not they are homebound or active) can be considered for services through Hospice. "Whether people have an immediate need or just want to know what their options might be, we encourage them to give us a call. If they know what we have to offer them or their family members, they have the opportunity to plan ahead. We can answer questions about how the medical system works, and we may also be able to refer them to sources of help outside our agency."

Redifer said it was an especially proud moment when, in February 2006, Hospice and Home Care earned certification to provide services under the Medicare Hospice Benefit. "That was a wonderful milestone for us," Redifer said. "People can more easily access our services now, and eligibility for reimbursement under Medicare helps us sustain the ability to provide those services."

Under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Hospice and Home Care can provide nursing care, including, if deemed necessary, physical, occupational, and speech therapy; home health aides; medical equipment such as hospital beds or wheel chairs; medications related to a primary illness or injury; and special services such as nutritional or pastoral counseling. A registered nurse is on call for Hospice patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We can offer palliative (comfort) care earlier in the course of illness than is offered under the home health benefit," Redifer said. "Now patients have access to a greater variety of services, and they will incur fewer costs."

Besides its other services, Hospice offers guidance for family members and caregivers, and in-home volunteers who are trained in supporting patients and their families during a difficult time. Volunteers might provide companionship, run errands, deliver meals, care for pets, help with computer or financial needs, or provide relief time for caregivers. For families and friends, Hospice offers counseling and support groups to help deal with the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

"It's never too soon to learn about what to expect from hospice services," Redifer said. "At the center of the hospice philosophy is the belief that each of us has the right to die pain-free and with dignity, and that our families and friends should receive the necessary support to allow us to do so. Hospice emphasizes quality of life, and the focus of services is on caring, rather than curing."

• Marge Hermans is a special projects volunteer Hospice and Home Care.

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