Mary Anne Davis: What I’ve learned about hospice care
When I joined the Hospice of the Foothills team in 2019, I must admit I did not fully understand all that hospice encompassed. Sure, I knew it was something you used if you had a loved one who was dying, but I really didn’t know much beyond that.
When I heard someone I knew was on hospice, a wave of panic tore through me as if they just had a day or two left. That “H” word was terrifying.
There was so much I didn’t know.
Through my work in hospice, I have learned that I carried many common misconceptions. I hope that sharing what I’ve learned will help others.
First, hospice is not just for those who are in their last days of life. In fact, hospice is for anyone who receives a diagnosis that under normal disease progression, would have six months of life left, and is no longer seeking a cure .(They often live longer once their symptoms are addressed.)
I have learned that by accepting hospice care as early as possible after receiving a terminal diagnosis, you and your family are eligible to receive all the services hospice care offers.
A comprehensive care team includes a medical doctor (who coordinates care with your own doctor), a nurse, aides, social worker, spiritual care adviser (if desired) and bereavement counselor.
Trained hospice volunteers can come visit with your loved one so you can run some errands, spend time with friends or just relax. While hospice does not provide round-the-clock in-home care, members of the care team visit throughout the week. You can always reach a nurse 24 hours a day if you have questions or issues arise.
Care giving is hard, and support from your hospice team can make it easier.
It is common for people to be reluctant to enlist hospice services because they may think it means they are giving up, admitting they are dying. When people put off calling hospice, the opportunity to build relationships with the care team is diminished.
As your loved one’s health declines, rushing to get this service can feel like crisis management — strangers are suddenly there, doing their best to provide comfort to your loved one.
By enlisting hospice early on, the team will be better able to manage pain and symptoms along the way, improving the quality of life. Then, when the end is near, there is peace and comfort for the entire family.
How do I know this? I am often touched by the letters I read every week from families very grateful for the care their loved one received, and most say they wish they had engaged hospice sooner.
When I started working at Hospice of the Foothills, I kept hearing, “Hospice is more about life than death.” But how could that be?
Our care teams are focused on allowing their patients to live their life to the fullest for the time they have left. They get to know their patients and families, learning about their goals for end of life. Hospice is care on your terms. Your care team will support your wishes.
I also thought hospice care was expensive. Again, I was wrong. Medicare and most private insurances provide hospice benefits. With Hospice of the Foothills (a nonprofit hospice), the patient or family never pays for any hospice services we provide.
Medicare and insurance reimbursements do not completely cover our costs, but thanks to the generosity of our community, donations cover these unmet expenses. This allows us to go above and beyond when the need arises.
Something else I was surprised to learn is that there is no cost for our bereavement services, and they are available to anyone in our community. Your loved one does not have to have been served by Hospice of the Foothills for you to use our bereavement services.
My experience here has made me much less afraid of dying and has prompted me to talk to my family about my end of life wishes. In turn, they have shared theirs with me. I recommend completing a “Five Wishes“ health care directive, and I encourage you to call 530-272-5739 if you would like a free copy mailed to you.
The services I have talked about are specific to Hospice of the Foothills, and I cannot guarantee all hospices offer the same level of service. When inquiring about hospice services anywhere, be sure to ask questions.
I have a deep admiration for our clinical team and their ability to bring comfort and peace to their patients, grieve the eventual loss, and find the strength to do it again. It takes a special hospice heart to do this work, and for them, it is a labor of love.
Mary Anne Davis is the marketing and events manager for Hospice of the Foothills in Grass Valley.
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