By Cathy Huizar-Rea
For Today’s Catholic
“I’m sorry; we have exhausted all treatment options. Have you considered hospice for your loved one?” As Catholics, this statement or question should not make us feel uneasy or hopeless. We are taught that although our earthly body dies, we are restored to wholeness by our Savior. Easier said than done for some of us.
As community liaison for people who qualify for hospice, I am able to meet with patients, their families, and the medical community to share information about this underutilized resource.
November is National Hospice Month. Often times, we find that patients, families or even doctors still have the perception that hospice means the patient’s death is eminent. The goal of hospice is to focus on not only the patient and their needs, but also the needs of their loved ones. Physical, emotional and spiritual needs are addressed while affirming life and helping the involved parties make the most of their time left together.
Hospice is for any individual facing a life limiting illness, when doctors believe under the normal progression the prognosis is six months or less. What many people do not realize is that with the assistance of hospice, patients are living longer due to the elimination of treatment that is no longer effective. Hospice does not mean patients will have all of their medical care stopped. What it does focus on is comfort. Hospices continue to treat for UTIs, upper respiratory infections or general illnesses. Hospice does stop curative treatment for the medical diagnosis for which the patient is certified hospice appropriate. Patients may keep their own doctor throughout hospice treatment if they chose too. The hospice team (physician, nurse, nurse assistants, social worker and chaplain) work to create a supportive environment. Supplies and other resources are also covered under the hospice benefits.
When possible, hospice should be presented early in the diagnosis of the life limiting illness. If you or a loved one answer yes to several of the following questions, it might be time to discuss with your doctor the possibility of hospice care with your doctor:
• Have I been to the hospital multiple times in the last six months?
• Have I started using or requesting medication to lessen my physical pain?
• Have I fallen numerous times or experienced weight loss making my clothes hang or bag on me?
• Do I need more assistance with daily activities like bathing, eating and dressing?
Hospice provides an opportunity for a better quality of life when curative treatment is no longer effective. Hospice treats the whole person, not just the disease. Medicare and Medicaid both pay 100 percent of hospice services, and many private insurance companies also have a hospice benefit.
It is important to realize you have a choice when it comes to who provides your end-of-life care. I would encourage you to seek out educational visits and consultations to determine whether you or a loved one qualifies for hospice care. Your physician can offer you options but ultimately it is your choice of which hospice works best for you.
Cathy Huizar-Rea is a community educator with St. Gabriel’s Hospice. St. Gabriel’s Hospice serves patients and families regardless of gender, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation or age. Cathy is a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary’s Parish.