Post Independent Columnist
Roaring Fork Hospice was created in 1998 when groups from Aspen and Glenwood Springs dovetailed their efforts to provide the best end-of-life experience possible for people facing life-threatening illness. The local hospice is operated under the auspices of Valley View Hospital.
The very first hospice was started by a physician in London, who chose the name “hospice” from an old word meaning “safe stop for those on a pilgrimage.”
Hospice volunteer coordinator Sean Jeung appreciates the poignancy of that phrase for assisting or companioning someone who is making this particular pilgrimage. She speculates most people on Hospice teams were called into the profession, and said it takes a very special kind of individual to work constantly with the circumstances of death and yet maintain a sense of wonder and joy for life.
People needing hospice care get involved after their physicians recognize the amazing benefits at this final stage. Sometimes a friend will recommend hospice and other times the family themselves are already familiar with what hospice can do and will ask their doctor to make the referral.
Hospice team members are trained to offer the highest level of comfort for each patient and close family and friends. Their goal is to help the individual orchestrate a comfortable, pain-free and alert final stage of life, whatever that looks like for them.
Pain management and caregiver support are two of the priorities. If a patient is in pain or if their primary caregivers are stressed beyond their capacity, the end-of-life experience can become something much less than what is possible.
Trained volunteers help out in whatever capacity is needed, from offering respite care for a primary caregiver to raking leaves to cleaning out attics.
Arrangements can be made to have someone from Roaring Fork Hospice speak to groups or organizations about the benefits of hospice and palliative care by calling Jeung at 945-3565, extension 4561.
According to Jeung, the most challenging part of being on a hospice team is educating the community to the benefits of hospice and helping people get comfortable with talking about death. Many people are afraid of the meaning of hospice, because it does mean someone is dying.
She says hospice volunteers can help people understand that amazing possibilities are present in an end-of-life situation.
Another challenge is helping doctors understand the benefits of early referral. Often hospice is called when patients have only hours or days to live.
Hospice director Tim Heflin commented, “I am certainly pleased that more people know about hospice and are choosing hospice, but nearly one third of our patients receive care for less than 10 days. We encourage family members to discuss end-of-life care in advance, so when it comes time to make these decisions, it is not a last resort.”
“Most of our reimbursement comes through Medicare or Medicaid,” Heflin explained. “When someone signs up we will provide all of our nursing services, social work visits, volunteers and all medications, supplies and equipment that are related to the terminal disease. The family does not receive a bill for all these services, and that is a relief.”
Jeung says the hospice experience is as much about life as it is about dying. Knowing that the possibility to have an end-of-life experience that is healing, whole and beautiful is a reality is the best thing about working in the hospice field.
“Getting to be part of a team of people who have that as their focus is just an unbelievable honor,” she commented.
” Kay Vasilakis’ column, “Nonprofit Spotlight”, appears every other Wednesday. For news tips or inspirations, please call 984-2308.
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