Hospice Care

Shedding New Light On Hospice Care: No Need To Wait For The ‘Brink Of Death’

Nurse checking a patient's blood pressure

The Biggest Misperception

A few weeks ago, Kathy Brandt’s 86-year-old mother was hospitalized in Florida after a fall. After rushing to her side, Brandt asked for a consult with a palliative care nurse.

“I wanted someone to make sure my mother was on the right medications,” Brandt said.

For all her expertise — Brandt advises end-of-life organizations across the country — she was taken aback when the nurse suggested hospice care for her mother, who has advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and a rapid, irregular heartbeat.

“I was like — really?” Brandt remembered saying, struggling with shock.

It’s a common reaction. Although hospices now serve more than 1.4 million people a year, this specialized type of care, meant for people with six months or less to live, continues to evoke resistance, fear and misunderstanding.

“The biggest misperception about hospice is that it’s ‘brink-of-death care,’” said Patricia Mehnert, a longtime hospice nurse and interim chief executive officer of TRU Community Care, the first hospice in Colorado.

In fact, hospice care often makes a considerable difference for those with months to live. “When someone is further out from death, we can really focus on enhancing their quality of life,” said Rachel Behrendt, senior vice president of Hospice of the Valley, which serves the Phoenix metropolitan area.

New research confirms that hospice patients report better pain control, more satisfaction with their care and fewer deaths in the hospital or intensive care units than other people with similarly short life expectancies.

What should seniors and their families, the largest users of hospice care, expect? It’s fairly well understood that patients forgo curative therapies in favor of comfort care when they enter hospice. Here are additional features:

Four Levels Of Care

Hospice providers are required to offer routine care in patients’ homes (this includes seniors who reside in assisted living or nursing homes); continuous care at home for people with out-of-control symptoms such as pain or breathing problems; inpatient respite for families that need a break from caring for a loved one; and general inpatient care for medical crises that can’t be handled in any other setting.

With continuous care, a nurse must be on-site in the home for at least eight hours a day, helping to bring symptoms under control. Usually, this will happen in one to three days. Respite care has a maximum limit of five days.

Some hospices have their own general inpatient facilities and “it’s a common misconception that patients are sent to inpatient hospice to die,” said Jean Cohn, clinical manager at Montgomery Hospice’s inpatient facility, Casey House. “In fact, we’re frequently fine-tuning patients’ regimens in inpatient hospice and sending them back home.”

Intermittent Care At Home

Routine care at home is by far the most common service, accounting for about 94 percent of hospice care, according to the latest report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

While services vary depending on a patient’s needs, home care typically involves at least one weekly visit from a nurse and a couple of visits from aides for up to 90 minutes. Also, a volunteer may visit, if a patient and family so choose, and social workers and chaplains are available to address practical and spiritual concerns.

Hospices will provide all medications needed to address the underlying illness that is expected to cause the patient’s death, as well as medical equipment such as hospital beds, commodes, wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen. Typically, there is no charge for such gear, although a copay of up to $5 per prescription is allowed.

What families and patients often don’t realize: Hospice staff will not be in the home every day, around the clock. “Many people think that hospice will be there all the time, but it doesn’t work that way,” Brandt said. “The family is still the front line for providing day-to-day care.”

In assisted living, patients or their families may have to hire nursing assistants or companions to provide supplemental care, since hands-on help is limited. In nursing homes, aides may visit less often, since more hands-on help is available on-site.

Self-Referrals Are Allowed

Anyone can ask for a consultation with a hospice. “We get many self-referrals, as well as referrals from family and friends,” said Behrendt of Hospice of the Valley. Usually, a nurse will go out and do a preliminary assessment to determine if a person would qualify for hospice services.

To be admitted, two physicians — the patient’s primary care physician and the hospice physician — need to certify that the person’s life expectancy is six months or less, based on the anticipated trajectory of the patient’s underlying illness. And recertification will be required at regular intervals.

You Choose Your Physician

You have a right to keep your primary care physician or you can choose to have a hospice physician be in charge of your medical care.

At JourneyCare, the largest hospice in Illinois, “we prefer that the patient keeps their primary care physician because that physician knows them best,” said Dr. Mark Grzeskowiak, vice president of medical services.

These arrangements require close collaboration. For instance, if a nurse observes that a patient with heart failure is experiencing increased shortness of breath, JourneyCare staff will get in touch with that patient’s primary care physician. The physician is responsible for altering the treatment plan; the hospice is responsible for implementing that plan and giving clear instructions to the patient and family.

Concerns About Medications

“There’s a misconception that you’re going to be medicated to a highly sedated state in hospice,” said Dr. Christopher Kerr, chief executive officer and chief medical officer for Hospice Buffalo Inc. in upstate New York. “The reality is our primary goal is to increase quality wakefulness. Managing these medications is an art and we’re good at it.”

Family caregivers are on the front line since they’re responsible for administering pain medications such as morphine. “Absolutely, there’s a great deal of fear and anxiety around all the issues associated with giving medications,” said Cohn of Montgomery Hospice. “We try to reassure caregivers that the doses we start with are very small and we’ll see how the patient reacts and go slowly and deliberately from there.”

Because most hospice stays are short — the median length is only 17 days — and because the diversion of painkillers from people’s homes is a risk, doctors have begun writing prescriptions for a week or two at a time, said Judi Lund Person, vice president of regulatory and compliance for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. If concerns exist, hospices can have a lockbox for medications sent to the home.

Discharges Are Possible

Estimating when someone is going to die is an art, not a science, and each year hundreds of thousands of hospice patients end up living longer than doctors anticipated.

If physicians can document continued decline in these patients — for instance, worsening pain or a noticeable advance in their underlying illness — they might be able to recertify them for ongoing hospice care. But if the patient is considered stable, they’ll be discharged, various experts said.

In 2015, nearly 17 percent of hospice patients were so-called live discharges, according to a report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Two days before a discharge, hospices are required to give the patient or family members a Notice of Medicare Non-Coverage. Expedited appeals of discharge decisions can be lodged with a Medicare quality improvement organization.

There are no regulatory requirements governing what hospices should do to facilitate live discharges. Some hospices will spend weeks helping patients make arrangements to receive medications, medical equipment and ongoing care from other sources. Others offer minimal help.

At The Very End

Almost 1 in 8 hospice patients don’t get visits from professional staff during their last two days of life, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine last year. And this can leave families without needed support.

Some hospices have responded by creating programs specifically for people who have a very short time left to live. “We’ve put together a special team for people who are expected to live 10 days or less because that requires a different kind of management,” said Ann Mitchell, chief executive officer of Montgomery Hospice. “Instead of a nurse for every 15 patients, a nurse on this team will have five to six patients and a social worker is available seven days a week.”

“One-third of our patients are here for less than seven days and often we get them in a crisis,” said Kerr of Hospice Buffalo. “We’ve had to repurpose our services to address the urgency and complexity of these patients’ needs and that means we have to be ever more present.” Across the board, Hospice Buffalo requires that patients be seen within 24 hours of an expected death.

for Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Five Ways Hospice Can Help

The vast majority of Americans say what they want at the end of life is to die in their own homes, as comfortable and pain-free as possible. The hospice philosophy is about making sure that a Patients prefer to stay at home. Grandfather and child.

patient’s experience reflects their wishes. Here are five ways that hospice helps to deliver this:

Hospice gives you comfort

Hospice professionals are experts at managing life-limiting illness. The hospice team ensures that medication, therapies and treatments all support a care plan that is centered on the patient’s goals. And hospice services can be offered wherever the patient calls home, allowing friends and family to visit freely—something they might not be able to do in a hospital ICU setting.

Hospice gives you peace

Beyond physical relief, hospice strives to help patients and families find emotional and spiritual comfort during what is often a very traumatic time. Hospice organizations are able to provide families with counselors, therapists, spiritual care advisors and bereavement professionals who can best support their struggles with death and grieving. These services are part of the hospice benefit, covered by Medicare, Medicaid or most private insurances.

Hospice gives you something extra

Hospice is not only about compassionate medical care and control of pain. Art and music therapists inspire joy; pet therapy and massages are offered at many programs as well.

Hospice gives caregivers guidance

Most families are not prepared to face the death of a loved one. In addition to caring for patients, hospice also offers services for families and loved ones that provide emotional support and advice to help family members become confident caregivers and adjust to the future with grief support for up to a year.

Hospice gives you more

Be it more joy, more love, or more quality of life in general, the goal of hospice is to offer patients the ability to enjoy the time they have remaining, and create meaningful memories for their families. Hospice offers more moments of life.

Learn more at www.MomentsofLife.org

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Why Hospice is More Important Today than Ever Before

The Affordable Care Act is driving all health care providers to find ways to improve outcomes in an environment of declining reimbursements. As payments go down, it’s important to consider how health care as a whole can increase efficiencies by providing hospice and palliative plans to end-of-life patients who need them most. A few facts to consider:

If you’re starting to think my suggestion to bolster palliative care is singularly financial, consider the study excerpts below:

Bottom line: hospice is not a bleak sentence; it’s a healthy option preferred by patients and their families.

Hospice caregivers make house calls.

Maggie Riley, a nurse practitioner at the Atlanta VA Medical Center puts it this way: Palliative care is about therapeutic relationship-building and interpersonal skills. It’s about listening intently, restating and reclarifying, so that you understand what a patient knows and what they need or want to know in order to make good decisions.

Serious illness affects a person physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Patients are often confused about many aspects of their situation. Some can’t comprehend what they’ve been told about their disease state and their likely outcomes. Others don’t understand their treatment options or know about their medical benefits. In some cases, they may be hoping for a cure that just is not possible.

Patients and their families need to know and understand their options.

Riley says it like this: No one wants to talk about these things but talking about them early can relieve stress and suffering, and make sure that a patient’s wishes are honored.

Having these discussions is terribly difficult but absolutely necessary. Not because the cost to care for these patients is reduced when they accept the inevitable, but because we have access to data-driven tools that provide the benefit of time — time that can be used to ensure quality of life.

On a personal note, I don’t want my parents and loved ones to exit this world in the clinical sterility of a hospital room surrounded by dedicated and capable strangers, but strangers nonetheless.

Further, I unequivocally do not want to die in a hospital. I am one of the 70 percent of Americans who wants to die at home. I will be in my bed, surrounded by people who love and care for me, who

Patients deserve to be informed.

Patients deserve to be informed.

are all bawling in an almost debilitating manner so that I am afforded one last little dose of ego stroking before I go. But that’s just me.

We, as a health care community, have the tools to make this scene — tears or no tears — a reality for more people than we ever have before. Predictive modeling is the answer. It can analyze clinical data and glean from that data a comparative insight into a patient’s likely term far earlier and more accurately than ever before. These analytics can provide families and patients a longer runway to consider, evaluate, and understand their options. What critically ill patient wouldn’t want to be made aware of palliative options if it meant a more comfortable existence and possibly even a longer one?

One of the fibers of our fabric as Americans is an attitude of eternal optimism and perseverance.

Never Give Up!—

Undeniably words to live by, but not to die by.

It is incumbent upon us to embrace our inevitable mortality when that stage is reached. It is incumbent upon us to guide patients into the right care venues to afford them an opportunity to seize and savor that last segment of life.

Thirty days of pain-free time at home with my loved ones is a far better option for me and for most people, than six months of procedures and needles and hospital rooms. We owe it to our patients to give them this option and we have the tools to do so.

As shown in the bullet points above, there is a major mismatch between people’s preferences for where they would like to die and their actual place of death. We can and should improve upon this. That is why using the emerging predictive technologies to better deliver hospice and palliative care is more important now than ever.

 

Dan HoganAbout the author: Dan Hogan is the CEO and founder of Medalogix. His company is a predictive modeling web service that analyzes data, like patient records, that post-acute agencies already have on hand to generate valuable patient insights. In 2012, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society awarded Medalogix the Health Information Technology award, which recognizes the software as one of the best emerging technologies in the Southeast. Dan can be reached at dan@medalogix.com.

 

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Veterans’ Day: A Reminder that Heroes Walk Among Us

frank_hay

Frank Hay

The 68-year-old courier has tried to put his memories of the unpopular war in Southeast Asia behind him. He certainly doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Nevertheless, while Frank Hay was making his rounds at Houston Hospice recently, his Vietnam Veteran ball cap was spotted by a staff member who thanked him for his service. He nodded his thanks and thought he’d be on his way until the staff member invited him to talk about the war. Houston Hospice is part of The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s “We Honor Veterans” program. As a result of learning more about the needs of veterans and their families, staff members have a tendency to notice vets.

An 18-Year-Old in America

In 1966, 18-year-old Frank Hay and his family lived a quiet country life on the banks of a lake outside North Guilford, Connecticut. North Guilford is a pleasant town with a volunteer firehouse, a general store and a gas station. As a kid, Frank got a kick out of walking on the lake’s barely submerged island to the astonishment of visitors who thought he was walking on water. With a school career frustrated by dyslexia behind him, Frank went to work as a Railway Postal Clerk. He counted bags of mail that were loaded and unloaded from rail cars as part of the Railway Post Office (RPO). Frank’s family knew young men were being conscripted to assist with a conflict in a place called Vietnam, so they weren’t surprised when he was drafted.

Frank was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for pre-induction physical examinations and testing. His dyslexia caused the army to suspect he was faking to get out of service. However, additional testing revealed a high IQ and the kid who grew up deer hunting in the woods of Connecticut was trained to be a gunner on a helicopter. During basic training Frank recalls thinking the war was a game. “I thought we’d come in and say ‘John Wayne’s here. Step aside.’ The first time someone got shot, I thought, ‘Wow! This is real.”’

Confusing New World

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Frank’s first impressions of Vietnam were clouded by confusion. “We’re in our own world in the U.S. and when you go there you realize things are not the same.” He felt disoriented to be in a place where people were so impoverished that they were forced to sell a child rather than part with a cow. Frank had been in Vietnam only seven months when his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing the pilot and co-pilot. He was captured immediately by the enemy who took him into the jungle where they were holding other prisoners of war. There were no POW camps at that time so the enemy cut the sole of Frank’s foot to prevent him from escaping.

Prisoner of War

He remembers being moved constantly for 14 months. “I talked with other prisoners but I didn’t become close because a lot of them died. Some of them went loony.” Fellow POWs died of disease and starvation. Frank figures he lost about 50 pounds. “We’d stay in a hole dug in the ground with bars over it. They fed us rice and fish. I’ll never eat rice again.” During the constant moves, the prisoners were separated and brought back together. Whenever Frank’s foot began to heal, it was cut again. “I took my anger out on God. I’d say ‘Why did you let this happen?’ ‘Why don’t you do something?’ I couldn’t be mad at the enemy. They were soldiers too.”

One day while the prisoners were out of their holes for a move, their encampment came under fire from a U.S. Army helicopter. Everyone ran. Guards ran. Prisovietnam_1967ners ran — in all directions. Frank ended up half running and half hobbling with two other prisoners. “We just kept running until we ran into a U. S. Army unit.” He was taken to a field hospital where he was treated and debriefed. From there, Frank went to a VA hospital. After his injuries healed he was sent home.

People Asked Why I Was There

Frank didn’t stay in touch with any of the guys he met in Vietnam. He didn’t keep a uniform, or a photo or any memento of his service. “After the war, people asked why I was there and why I was fighting and killing. We were just soldiers on both sides. We were only doing what we were told. I just wanted to get on with my life.” Frank recalls being spit on and called a baby killer. He went to the VFW Hall in Guilford, Connecticut where he was ridiculed. “The other vets said that Vietnam was not really a war.” Frank resents being denied camaraderie at the hall. “In those days they had dances, parties and baseball games. Now it’s just a place to go drinking. I’m tired of older people coming up and shaking my hand. Where were you when I came home?”

Frank doesn’t like to talk about the war. But in an act of extreme generosity, he did. He did move on. He moved to Houston and, at 50, met and married his wife who hails from Buffalo, New York. Frank has no desire to return to Vietnam. The courier has moved on but some wounds remain.

We Honor Veterans

About Houston Hospice: As a leader in hospice care for people of all ages and all walks of life, nonprofit Houston Hospice provides for the distinct needs of Veterans and their families through its We Honor Veterans Program. Care is provided to patients and families in private homes and in residential facilities throughout Houston and 10 surrounding counties. Inpatient care is provided in the Houston Hospice Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center in the Texas Medical Center. To learn more about the We Honor Veterans Program and other services, call 713-468-2441 or visit www.houstonhospice.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Paying For End-of-Life Care

Baby Boomers Feel the Squeeze

Man Paying Bills

Concerns over the costs of healthcare are shared by almost every family across the country. Many baby boomers are providing care for their aging parents just as they are facing their own health care issues.

Yet, for almost 30 years, the Medicare Hospice Benefit has provided a model for financing end-of-life care that can bring great relief and support to families during one of life’s most difficult times.

This benefit covers virtually all aspects of hospice care with little out-of-pocket expense to the patient or family. As a result, the financial burdens often associated with caring for a terminally-ill patient are lifted.

Hospice care also offers supports to the loved ones of the patient; this brings an added level of relief to the dying person, knowing their loved ones are being cared for as well.

Hospice is paid for through the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Medicaid Hospice Benefit, and most private insurers.

Medicare covers these hospice services and pays nearly all of their costs:

Medicare will still pay for covered benefits for any health problems that aren’t related to a terminal illness.

Hospice Means More Medical Care, Not LessTeam of medical professionals

Hospice and palliative care involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Families making end-of-life decisions for a loved one need compassion and support, not financial worries. The Medicare Hospice Benefit helps alleviate these concerns.

To learn more, contact Houston Hospice at 281-468-2441 or 800-824-2911 or at info@houstonhospice.org.

To find a hospice or learn more about hospice care, visit Moments of Life at www.MomentsOfLife.org.

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Houston Hospice Nurses Receive Prestigious Award

Good Samaritan Excellence in Nursing Award

Houston Hospice nurses Hope Cook, Svanhaniel Crim and Darelle Robbins received the Bronze Excellence in Nursing Award from the Good Samaritan Foundation at a luncheon ceremony on September 8, 2016 at Houston’s Royal Sonesta Hotel. The event was chaired by Kathryn M. Tart EdD, MSN, RN, founding Dean and Professor of the University of Houston School of Nursing. This year 249 nurses were nominated by their peers from hospitals, clinics, colleges and universities throughout Houston.

Hope_Cook_Recieved_Excellence_In_Nursing_AwardHope Cook

Hope Cook BSN, RN, CHPN has been a practicing Registered Nurse since graduating from Texas Woman’s University, Houston 41 years ago. This year she tackled a new role as Educator for Houston Hospice. Hope has created several educational programs and works diligently toward positive outcomes in patient care through education. Hope’s colleagues note that she tenaciously seeks the latest information to stay abreast of changes in the hospice specialty. Her educational programs have enriched and supported the Houston Hospice nursing team.

Svanhaniel_Crim_Received_The_Excellence_In_Nursing_Award

Svanhaniel Crim

Svanhaniel (pronounced Swan-Nell) Crim BSN, RN embarked on her nursing career 40 years ago, after graduating from the University of Texas System School of Nursing. She has served as a leading member of her Houston Hospice care team for over six years. Because of Svanhaniel’s diverse experience and penchant for learning, she is a go-to person for nurses and physicians. Svanhaniel is eager to help her colleagues succeed and she is often called upon to act as a mentor and educator for new employees, nursing students and medical residents from nearby programs. Svanhaniel is also well-known for her exceptional bedside manner. Patients and families frequently express gratitude for the care she provides.

darelle_robbins_received_the_excellence_in_nursing_awardDarelle Robbins

Darelle Robbins MN, RN has been an RN since graduating from Odessa Junior College. She earned a BSN in 1979 from the University of Texas in Austin and completed her Masters in Nursing in Staff Development, Clinical Nurse Specialist degree in 1990 from LSU in New Orleans. Darelle’s Houston Hospice care team says she has been an inspiration to them with her positive attitude and can-do spirit. Darelle steps in when nursing needs arise, even traveling from Houston to El Campo to Humble in one day to see patients. At their weekly care team meetings, Darelle shares her wealth of knowledge making valuable contributions toward patient care planning. Beyond her medical expertise, families express appreciation for the calming and reassuring presence Darelle provides.

Thank you Hope, Svanhaniel and Darelle for your expert medical care and for providing comfort, dignity and reassurance for patients and families. You truly care and it shows.

Work with the best of the best. Houston Hospice employment opportunities.

 

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Personal Experience Brought Volunteer to Houston Hospice

IMG_0007_peCake, Balloons and a Big Announcement

During a recent volunteer shift, Sylvia Valverde was summoned to the dining room of Houston Hospice. Her initial confusion at seeing a cake, flowers and balloons turned to stunned surprise. The celebration was in her honor because she had been named Houston Hospice Volunteer of the Year. When she retired from a 33-year career as an educator, Sylvia knew volunteering with hospice was what she wanted to do. A very personal experience prompted her to seek opportunities to help others through Houston Hospice.

Unexpected Blessings of Volunteering

Sylvia says her biggest surprise about volunteering at Houston Hospice is how much she loves it. “The patients have given me tremendous insight about living life to the fullest and that the dying process is not to be feared. I’ve especially been blessed to give babies and toddlers love and care in their final days when their parents haven’t been able to be present. That has been my most rewarding experience.”

Because she is bilingual, speaking English and Spanish, Sylvia often translates for patients and families. She enjoys her conversations and says seeing patients and loved ones smile is priceless. “I enjoy visiting with the patients and family members and they like knowing that Houston Hospice is very special to me because my mother was a patient there. That experience connects us and lets them know that I have personally experienced hospice care. While every death is different, I can somehow relate and understand what they’re going through.”

SylviaValverde_Volunteer_of_the_YearInspired to Give Back

Her mother’s experience is what inspired Sylvia to volunteer. She says the care her mother received in 2003 made a big impression on her. “I always said I wanted to give back when I had the opportunity. I retired from education in August 2011, and I immediately contacted Houston Hospice and began the training that September. God has blessed my life tremendously and He calls us to be servants—this is why I’m here—to serve.”

Volunteer Manager, Patsy Piner said it wouldn’t be Friday mornings without Sylvia Valverde’s lovely smile and sweet spirit. “Whether she is passing out pillowcases to patients, training new volunteers or sharing her delicious homemade goodies, she is a blessing to everyone she visits. We are so fortunate that she chose to volunteer with us.”Volunteer of the Year 012_pe

It Takes a Village of Volunteers and Staff

Volunteers are an integral part of nonprofit Houston Hospice’s team. To learn more about volunteering at Houston Hospice, call 713-467-7423 or visit www.houstonhospice.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Veterans Day: Honoring America’s Veterans Includes Meeting Their Unique Needs

soldier-708711_1280Houston Hospice delivering Veteran-centric care to those who served our country

1 in 4 of All deaths in the U.S. are Veterans

Many Americans do not realize that 1 in 4 of all deaths in the U.S. are Veterans. As the nation honors these American heroes for their military service on Veterans Day, November 11, it’s important to remember that they also deserve recognition and compassionate care when dealing with a serious illness.

As a We Honor Veterans participant, Houston Hospice is providing specialized care to Veterans who are facing a life-limiting illness. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs created We Honor Veterans to empower hospice and other healthcare providers across America to meet the unique needs of seriously ill Veterans and their families.

We’re Intentional About Caring for the Unique Needs of Our Veterans

“Through We Honor Veterans we are taking a giant step forward in helping healthcare professionals and volunteers understand and serve Veterans at the end of life,” said J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president and CEO. “It is time that we step up and acquire the necessary skills and fulfill our mission to serve these men and women with the dignity they deserve.” Houston Hospice CEO, Jim Faucett, noted the benefits of the program to patients and families and the organization, “As we’ve trained to meet the unique needs veterans face at the end of life, our staff has become more aware of all veterans. We’ve been enriched by seeking out our veteran volunteers and learning their stories, and we’re less hesitant to introduce ourselves to other veterans and thank them for their service.”

military-864397_1920Within the We Honor Veterans program, there are four levels of distinction that hospices can earn based on their involvement with Veteran education and their interaction with the Veterans and their family members that they are caring for. The goal of these levels is to ensure the very best care is being provided to those who have served our country. Houston Hospice is working toward the highest level of participation. It is meeting the specific needs of Veterans by being knowledgeable about the wars in which they served and the associated traumas; such as radiation exposure from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests after World War II, and pulmonary maladies resulting from the oil rig fires of the Gulf War. Houston Hospice is also strengthening its relationship with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and offering community outreach educational programs for Veterans’ groups about advance care planning, available resources, and care options.

They Know I UnderstandMikeMcCardle_BronzeStar_ForValor_FtBragg_1968

Houston Hospice volunteer, Mike McCardle, began visiting veteran patients 15 years ago. Because he’s a veteran, he said patients open up to him about their lives and the emotional burdens they’ve carried since battle. “I walk in, give my military pedigree, then they give me theirs and we’re off and running. They know they don’t have to explain. They know I understand.” Mike served in Vietnam from 1964-69. He went to war as a young private and left Southeast Asia just five years later as a battle-seasoned Captain in the United States Army. Often, the wives of the veterans he visits have not even heard the stories their husband’s share with him. “The biggest surprise is how much I get out of it. I form a bond with these guys. I’ve met some real characters. I’ve heard about the Battle of the Bulge, and lots of stories about the South Pacific. I was just mastering my own PTSD and these guys really helped me to know that what I was going through is normal.”

As we celebrate our nation’s heroes this Veterans Day – and every day of the year – we must not forget that it is never too late to give them a hero’s welcome home. Learn more at www.WeHonorVeterans.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Watch – Hospice Conversations and Policies are Changing

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Houston Hospice Volunteer of the Year

WP_20150514_11_58_32_Pro_peIt Wouldn’t Be Monday Without Debbie

Eleven-year volunteer, Debbie Hoelscher, has been named volunteer of the year by Houston Hospice. As a nonprofit organization, Houston Hospice relies upon over 300 volunteers to help set the tone for the compassionate care patients and families receive. Since 2003, Debbie Hoelscher has volunteered in both the inpatient care center and in patients’ homes. Volunteer Coordinator, Patsy Piner said, “It wouldn’t be Monday at hospice without Debbie here tending the flowers, tending the patients, and bringing serenity and calmness into our lives.”

Volunteering With Hospice Isn’t For Everyone

About her work in hospice Debbie states, “The families truly appreciate the smallest gift of your time and doing this type of work gives me a great sense of gratefulness.” Debbie also trains incoming volunteers and many have noted her ability to engage and be at ease with patients and their families. Ms. Piner added, “We often say that volunteering with hospice is not for everyone, but Debbie has a gift for this type of work and we are glad she spends her Mondays with us.”

Volunteers are an integral part of nonprofit Houston Hospice’s team; serving patients and families with caring expertise in the Houston Hospice care center, in patients’ homes and in assisted living facilities. To learn more about volunteering at Houston Hospice, call 713-467 7423 or visit www.houstonhospice.org.

-Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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