As a hospice social worker, I serve individuals who have a life-limiting illness that, if it follows the expected course, will result in death within six months or less. Hospice staff does not know the date and time of any one individual’s death, but we do know that there are things that can be done to help the person with the illness as they take this leg of their personal journey. Hospice isn’t just for cancer patients. It is for anyone with a life-limiting illness.
There are medical needs, physical needs, emotional needs and spiritual needs that a person who is dying experiences. At Blount Memorial Hospice and Palliative Care, we have an interdisciplinary approach to care. We have registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who tend to symptom control and comfort, certified nursing assistants who help with physical needs like bathing, and chaplains who tend to spiritual needs. Social workers help a patient and/or his or her family identify what they might need to make a difficult time more manageable. Trained volunteers can sit with a patient so the family can take a much-needed break, go to the store or attend to their own medical needs. A physician provides oversight of every patient we work with. We do not do anything to hasten a person’s death and we do not do anything to slow a person’s death down, but allow nature to take its course. We recognize death as the final stage of life.
Hospice is often not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient or family member will resist hospice because he or she thinks it means you’re giving up, or that there’s no hope. This is not true. Electing hospice care is not giving up. Hospice care promotes quality of life, it does not limit life. Hospice focuses on what each patient and his or her family needs - it is family-centered care.
Blount Memorial Hospice and Palliative Care staff recognizes that death is a part of life. It is hard work but also is very rewarding work. We help people stay at home surrounded by loved ones. We help people in nursing homes by supporting them and their families, and provide a level of expertise to nursing home staff with specially-trained nurses whose focus is comfort care and not cure. We can arrange respite care if there is a temporary break down in care giving or a need arises for the caregiver to be away for a short period of time, and hospital-based care for those who have uncontrolled symptoms or have acute chronic symptom management. It often is helpful to have someone who is not emotionally involved to provide insight to situations. We do not judge by our personal thoughts or beliefs and we never insist on what we think should be done. We honor the patient and their family, their beliefs and their wishes.
Cost may be covered by Medicare, Medicaid/TennCare, private insurance or private pay. Medicare hospice coverage includes medication and equipment related to the patient’s terminal illness. For more information, call Blount Memorial Hospice and Palliative Care at 865-977-5702.
Ginger Billingsley is a counselor and social worker for Blount Memorial Hospice and Palliative Care.