Grateful For Hospice Care In Our County

The following article ran in The Post-Journal on 3/10/2024. Authored by Margot Russell.

More than a year before my mother passed away, she transitioned into hospice care at home.

It was a hard conversation to have with her. Like a lot of people, she had the misconception that calling hospice signaled a lack of hope about her immediate future, or that we were forcing her to confront the idea of death before she was ready.

But when hospice social worker Heidi Raynor came by to explain what hospice is and isn’t, it put us all at ease.

My mother’s needs had begun to challenge our skill level and hospice offered us solutions we didn’t know existed in what has come to be a challenging national health care environment. Hospice seemed to enter our life on wings, offering access to physicians, nurses, health aides, social workers and so much more.

Our relief was immediate. A health aide began visiting a few hours a day a few times a week.

The aide would run errands, make a meal, clean the bathroom—whatever was most needed that day. Hospice provided my mother’s medications, which had always been a challenging task to manage.

Best of all, my family formed a team with hospice that felt life affirming, rather than an expedient rush to the end. We worked together to bring a measure of control back to everyone’s lives–especially my mother’s.

The truth is, Hospice is focused on caring for people–and their caregivers or loved ones–to help them have the best quality of life possible for the time that they have left.

I look back at the last year of my mother’s life as a time filled with competent and compassionate caregivers that helped us navigate the difficult journey that is end stage lung disease. Most importantly, the care was nearly magical in its ability to restore my mother to a sense of living in the midst of dying.

The care is typically provided where the patient lives, whether that’s at a private home or in an assisted living facility. Patients can also transition to the Star Hospice House in Lakewood.

According to guidelines, to receive hospice care, a person must have a terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of six months or less to live. In most cases, a physician recommends hospice; patients and their families can also take the initiative and contact hospice agencies, although a doctor must attest that a person meets the qualifications.

Most people receive hospice care for less than one month. In the instance that a person lives longer than six months while in hospice, a physician will re-evaluate the person’s health to assess whether the patient still qualifies. But the truth is, many people would benefit from enrolling sooner so that they can receive hospice services for months instead of weeks.

Zach Agett, the Vice President of Community Engagement for Chautauqua County Hospice and Pallative Care, explained to me recently why it’s beneficial to think about Hospice sooner.

“The sooner you call, the more we can do,” he says. “One of the obstacles is that our society doesn’t want to talk about death, so they tend to put off thinking about Hospice for as long as they can.”

Agett went on to talk about the breadth of services offered that are completely covered by Medicare–including having a chaplain visit. Or a health aide. Or a nurse or doctor visiting the patient’s home.

Hospice organizations throughout the country have endured some criticism through the years, but most of the publicized incidences came from Hospice organizations that are privately-funded and are for-profit businesses, where allegiance is sometimes aligned with stock holders and concern about profit. Hospice organizations in New York State are non-profit, including Chautauqua County.

“Our people are amazing,” Agett tells me. “Our employees all live in this community and we care deeply about the people who live here too.”

Indeed, according to Agett, the organization has a five-star rating with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that rating is, in part, based on surveys and the responses they receive from family members.

The new Star Hospice House offers 24/7 care and currently has five beds to offer people in our county. It’s a beautiful place, filled with lots of light and warmth and skilled but caring people.

In what was a very trying and sad time for my family, we were grateful for the days my mother spent in the care of Hospice. Most importantly, we want to thank them for helping us make the most of the time we had left with our beautiful mother.

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