Celebrating National Home Care and Hospice Month

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

When you are sick, where would you like to be treated? If given the choice, I imagine you'd prefer the comfort of your own home to just about anyplace else, and 4.5 million Americans would agree with you. Luckily, with the assistance of home health services, your wish to remain in your home during illness or rehabilitation can be granted. In November, we will celebrate the miracle of home health during National Home Care Month and National Hospice Month. Why do we celebrate? More than just providing excellent care where and when patients need and want it, home care and hospice save this country and commercial health insurers billions of health care dollars each year.

Hospice and Home Care of Juneau was founded 24 years ago, but the American tradition of home care started a century before that. In the 1880s, public-health nurses traveled to patients' homes providing skilled nursing care as well as patient and family education. They were at the bedsides of the dying and were continually learning new ways to help relieve the suffering of both the acutely ill and the dying. Over time, the vital importance of the traveling nurses became recognized, and insurance companies began to offer visiting nurse services to their policyholders, creating the first national system of insurance payment for home health services. That tradition continues today with hospice and home health's being paid for by private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and social service grants.

There are many advantages to being cared for in one's home. Experiencing a health crisis can be frightening, causing us to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by complex medical information and procedures. Simply being in our own home may provide us with a sense of security and dignity that is hard to duplicate within a hospital setting, no matter how good the care. Being at home offers some degree of independence when we are feeling a loss of control. Home care and hospice services are tailor-made for each patient, depending on individual needs. It can offer valuable training and education to family members and caregivers, as well as emotional and physical support. And it may come as a surprise to some, but home care is the least-expensive form of health care available.

At Hospice and Home Care we are constantly striving to serve the home health needs of Juneau, yet we continue to hear from physicians and community members alike that people are still not sure what services we provide and to whom. Hospice & Home Care of Juneau serves those who are temporarily homebound due to illness or who need care after surgery, along with people who are suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. In spite of all our efforts to educate the public, many still see hospice care as a sign of failure or the loss of hope. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who have hospice care can still seek curative treatments such as chemotherapy, while taking advantage of the pain and symptom management expertise of our highly trained nursing staff. Since our philosophy of care is based on the patient's directing services, we wish to support our clients in the ways they want to be supported. Hospice & Home Care of Juneau is the only full-service home health and hospice agency in Juneau, we are equipped to offer a variety of medical disciplines including: skilled nursing care, home health aides, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, infusion therapy, social service support, volunteers, free medical equipment loans, bereavement support, and patient and family education. As a program of Catholic Community Service, our support has expanded to include Care Coordination, The Bridge Adult Day Program, Care-A-Van, Meals on Wheels, Caregiver Support, and much more. Never before has our community had access to a continuum of care with this quality or range.

Why is home health care and hospice more important than ever? Because in less than ten years, one out of every five Americans will be over the age of 65. By 2040, the number of people over the age of 80 will triple to 26.2 million. Obviously, Americans are growing older and living longer, and as innovations in medical care continue to progress, our lives will be extended even more. Yet, longer life does not necessarily translate into good health. Many older Americans will suffer from chronic illnesses and will need long-term care. Hopefully, home health and hospice will still be here offering its peerless and invaluable combination of care, compassion and cost-effectiveness.

•Mary Cook is the volunteer coordinator with Hospice & Home Care of Juneau, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.

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