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Hospice serves more than cancer patients

The Hospice of Douglas County includes nurses, medical director, hospice aides, chaplain, musc and massage therapists, along with more than 45 volunteers. (Contributed)1 / 2
Lily, a 5-pound Havanese, is a trained "Paws of Love" therapy dog. She visits hospice patients with her trainer, Teresa Herzog. (Contributed)2 / 2

When you think of hospice, what comes to mind? Cancer patients who are in their last few days of life?

What about dementia patients or patients with lung disease, heart disease or Parkinson's disease? Do they come to mind when you think about hospice? They should. In essence, anyone with a disease that eventually becomes terminal can benefit from the services offered through hospice.

Sue Quist, Hospice of Douglas County supervisor, explained how hospice works and who can benefit from the program.

Hospice is a benefit set up through Medicare, which is a federal benefit, she said. Those who are in the last six months or less to the end of their life qualify for hospice — this is anyone with any type of terminal disease.

There is a misconception that hospice is only used once the person reaches the last couple weeks or even days of their life. When in reality, Quist said, patients can benefit from its services in the last six months.

"People picture us only caring for patients in the last two or three days or even week of their life, when they are bed bound and they can't do anything," she said. "And that's not true. We want to get involved as soon as it's appropriate."

Because of the misconception that hospice is only for those in their last few weeks, 50 percent of hospice patients in the country are only in hospice care for 14 days or less, according to Quist. She said it is really hard for staff to do all of its work in that short amount of time.

"Part of the decision to use hospice is when patients want their care focused on comfort. We are really a society of treating disease and aggressively treating disease almost to a fault," she said. "People are getting treatment as such that it impacts their quality of life. Whatever time they have left, we want it to be the best time it can be."

Despite popular belief that cancer patients use hospice benefits the most, Quist said, the largest population of patients served in the country is actually patients with dementia. The reason she said is because the population of those people are growing. Alzheimer's is a top disease in the nation and dementia is a form of Alzheimer's.

As for how a patient is referred to hospice, Quist said referrals can come in different ways. Some come from the doctor, some come from the family and some can even come from the facility, such as a nursing home, where the patient might be living.

"Staff from the various facilities understand when it is appropriate to give us a call," said Quist.

Once a patient is referred to hospice, Quist said that a hospice nurse will do an assessment and will coordinate the care that the patient needs. She noted that roughly 75 percent of the registered nurses on staff at Hospice of Douglas County are certified in hospice nursing and in palliative care, which focuses on relieving suffering and achieving the best possible quality of life for patients and families.

Additionally, Quist said an individual plan is set up for each patient and that most often the plan includes emotional support from a social worker and spiritual support from the hospice chaplain.

She also noted that when Medicare set up the hospice program, it required that 5 percent of the care comes from volunteers.

In addition to the support and care they receive from the nurses, aides and volunteers, there also is music therapy, massage therapy and dog therapy. She said there is a program designed for veterans, as well, called "We honor veterans."

"About 25 percent of Americans that are dying are veterans," said Quist. "That's an important part of our services and we have to know how to care for them."

The most important item to note, Quist said, is regardless of who the patient is and what type of services they need, it's best to get hospice involved earlier instead of later.

"It may be a hard thing to talk about, but it is an important thing to talk about with your family," she said. "We are always happy to meet with families and talk about how we can help."

For more information, contact Hospice of Douglas County at (320) 763-6018 or visit its website at www.hospicedouglascounty.org.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242
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