Hospice grief support: caring continues after death
As part of the celebration of National Home Care and Hospice month throughout November, Lincoln Medical Home Health and Hospice contributes information about Home Care and Hospice services in weekly articles in The Elk Valley Times.
“Last week, we emphasized the services that are provided in both home care and hospice in Lincoln County,” said Susie Compton, RN, Administrator for the agency. “This week, our focus is on hospice and the many services that are part of this fantastic health care benefit.”
The Home Health and Hospice Team includes (front, from left) Brenda Monks, Home Health Aide; Nancy Thomas, RN; Mary Frances Jones, RN; Susie Compton, RN, Administrator; (rear) Donna Giovinazzo, Clerical/ Home Health Aide; Amy Bates, RN; Ellen Poarch, RN, Case Manager; Angie Holden, LPN; Terri Kerbo, RN; Debbie Kilpatrick, Social Worker, Bereavement and Volunteer Coordinator; and Brandi Halcomb, Medical Secretary.
Hospice care is provided as a benefit of many insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. A team comprised of physicians, nurses, a social worker, bereavement coordinator, spiritual counselor and volunteer coordinator looks at not only the patient’s needs, but the needs of the caregivers as well.
While many people understand that hospice is provided for patients who have a terminal illness with a limited life expectancy, many do not realize that hospice care is a group of services, not just medical care, that is provided to both the patient and his or her caregivers during the patient’s illness and for the months following the death of the patient.
“Although many health care providers may be able to offer medical support for end-of-life care, only hospice offers spiritual support and a defined bereavement program for patients and their families,” Compton explained. “Those services start immediately and extend for 12 months after a patient expires.”
“Upon admission to hospice, the patient and his or her support system are assessed for understanding and acceptance of the disease and prognosis, readiness for death and for risk of complicated grief,” said Debbie Kilpatrick, Social Worker and Bereavement Counselor for the agency.
What is complicated grief?
“Many people deal with life-limiting illnesses but have not or will not confront the possibility of death or how that will affect those left behind. People often are experiencing grief before a patient dies. The patient himself may be grieving what he has already lost and what he will leave behind when he dies. The caregivers and family may be dealing with anticipatory grief, yet feel like they are ‘selfish’ or ‘shouldn’t feel that way’ because their loved one hasn’t died yet.
“The patient and family may have many worries about how life will be different for the family after death occurs. These worries may not just be about the emotional toil that death may take, but on financial and social aspects of losing a loved one. These are legitimate and important concerns. Unfortunately, their worries may not be addressed until they enter hospice.”
“Death and talking about death can be very frightening for people,” said Nancy Thomas, RN, who has been a hospice nurse with the agency for several years. “Electing to receive hospice requires a patient and family to acknowledge that death is going to occur, but the focus of hospice care is not on death. It is on having the best life possible for as long as possible. Hospice helps patients and families feel supported and prepared to handle a life-limiting illness and deal with what lies ahead after a loved one dies.”
In addition to the bereavement program, Lincoln Medical Home Health and Hospice offers a grief support group twice a month.
“Our grief support meetings are not only for our hospice families. They are open to the public. We meet at noon on the second Tuesday of every month and at 6 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month,” said Kilpatrick. “We also host an annual Candlelight Memorial during which families and friends of our hospice patients, as well as anyone in our community who would like to participate, may gather to celebrate the memories of lost loved ones and the meaning we find in loss.”
This year’s Candlelight Service will be held on Nov. 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.
“Activities like the Memorial and grief support group allow opportunities for families and friends to express their feelings of loss and remembrance in a supported, loving environment.”
Compton added, “Healthy bereavement and grief is crucial to complete healing following the illness and death of a loved one. We recognize that need in hospice care.”
How can the public find out more about hospice? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides information about the Medicare Hospice Benefit. To download Medicare’s booklet on the hospice benefit, click on: http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/02154.pdf. In addition, the nursing staff at Lincoln Medical Home Health and Hospice is available to consult with terminally ill patients or their families who are not yet in a hospice. The consultation can occur in a hospital, nursing home, other facility or at home and may include counseling on care options and advance care planning. Interested individuals may contact the agency at 931-433-8088 or visit the Lincoln County Health System webpage at http://www.lchealthsystem.com/lchs.nsf/View/homehealthhospice.