Hospice: a shared experience

Dr. Tanya Layne is board-certified in family medicine and is the chairwoman of the Butte-Glenn Medical Society.

In an era of “can do” medicine, the idea of anything less than an all-out aggressive war on a disease—even when cure is not possible—is portrayed as a betrayal of a personal trust between the doctor and the patient. The option of hospice is a difficult subject to bring up for all parties concerned: the person facing the life-limiting illness, his or her support group—be they close family or friends—and the physician who is directing their care.

Hospice offers another alternative—the concept of palliative (or comfort) care where a person can “withdraw from the field of battle with dignity” with the support of a network of family and friends and, most important, a caring team of health professionals.

Good hospice care is very hands-on and proactive. Pain management is its strength, backed up by emotional support—invaluable in the middle of a long night when a hospice team member is the one person who can be reached without apology for help or reassurance.

Covered by Medicare and many commercial insurances, hospice offers a wide range of support services aimed at keeping someone as comfortable as possible, including medications, medical equipment, supplies, home assistance (such as for bathing), therapists and respite care.

What prevents people from taking advantage of hospice hospice?

Part of the problem is fear—fear of the unknown, fear of “giving up” and fear that, once it is agreed upon, there is no turning back. On the contrary, if new treatments become available or simply if the person receiving hospice changes his or her mind, he or she can elect to opt out of the hospice program with the option to return later if clinical criteria are met.

A new public-awareness program—the Friends of Hospice program—has just been launched. It invites those who have had any kind of personal experience with hospice to help spread the word about this special kind of care. The program is supported by a coalition of nine local community organizations that are committed to the hospice concept, including the Butte-Glenn Medical Society. (The coalition also includes the American Cancer Society, Butte Home Health and Hospice, California Hospice Foundation, Chico Area Interfaith Council, Chico State’s School of Nursing, Enloe Medical Center Hospice, Paradise Hospice and Passages Adult Resource Center.)

Besides knowing about hospice as an option for the future, everyone should take steps—today—to talk to their families and complete an advance directive. Free information is available from (877) 248-1122 or www.hospicefoundation.info.

Hospice is not an absence of care; it is care—care with the goals of comfort and dignity during this important period of life.