What to know about end of life care

8:33 AM, Nov 30, 2020
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When it comes to healthcare, the focus is often on how to cure an illness, but another essential part of healthcare is end of life care.

“Similar to birth, the end of life is a universal experience,” says Bennett MacIntyre, St. Peter’s Health Foundation project manager.

End of life care, called hospice, supports patients with life-threatening illnesses, no matter their age or illness. Primary care doctors usually refer patients to hospice if they likely have six months or less to live. At that point, rather than focusing on a cure, hospice focuses on improving quality of life.

“Hospice does not mean imminent death — patients may graduate from hospice if a condition isn’t getting worse or stabilizes,” MacIntyre said.

Whether for you or a loved one, here is what you need to know about end of life care.

Hospice will come to the patient

Hospice care is available in a hospital, but it doesn’t have to be there.

“Hospice services can be provided wherever the patient might be — in the home, in the hospital or in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility,” MacIntyre says.

Equipment can be brought to patients, including hospital beds, bedside commodes, wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs, bath benches, oxygen, over-the-bed tables, and so on. Professional services are always available on-call.

Hospice supports families

Families also benefit from hospice care.

“Hospice services are just as much for the loved ones of the patient as they are for the patients themselves,” MacIntyre says. “Loved ones are provided guidance, respite, and support through the entire process, including bereavement.”

Families are involved in developing a plan of care and caregiving, and are supported afterward.

“Hospice support for a patient’s loved ones do not end once the patient dies,” MacIntyre says.

Hospice is available in a pandemic

Regulations to prevent spreading COVID-19 made it necessary to adapt. For example, skilled nursing facilities worked to protect their residents by preventing access to hospice volunteers and some staff, along with patient family members.

However, the lack of contact took its toll on hospice patients, so hospice workers have adjusted, replacing hugs and friendly touches with kind voices and smiling eyes. They also assist patients in connecting virtually with loved ones.

Hospice doesn’t need to cost you

Hospice care is available to anyone in the community.

“St. Peter’s Health Hospice provides hospice services to everyone in our community who may need them, regardless of their ability to pay,” MacIntyre says.

Services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, many private health insurances, and the St. Peter’s Health Foundation.

You can help

To cover the expense of providing hospice care for everyone who needs it, St. Peter’s Health Foundation is hosting its annual Light A Life fundraiser.

“It is the only annual fundraising event for the care provided by St. Peter’s Health Hospice — which is one of the only not-for-profit hospice providers in the region,” MacIntyre says.

The proceeds are not used for operating expenses such as salaries or overhead, rather for staff and volunteer training, bereavement support groups, hospice and bereavement materials for loved ones, technology to allow virtual connections, and so on.

In lieu of an in-person event this year, you can donate online or through the mail in honor of a loved one. Your gift will be symbolized by a light on the 80-foot evergreen tree outside the Helena Civic Center during the holidays, and donors who give $500 or more will also receive a commemorative ornament.

For more information on the foundation and how you can help, visit SPHealth.org/Foundation.

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