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Hospice offers end-of life dignity, families say

In seems that most people are afraid of a Hospice.  Statistics show that if they are used, people will wait until the final days of someone’s life until they are called upon.   But those who run Wyoming’s 18 Hospices would like to change that.   Hospice care is a less expensive option than a nursing home or hospital that is focused on helping the patient die with dignity while also healing the family.  Most who have been through the process say it actually is a positive experience.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.

BOB BECK:   Make no bones about it.  Hospice Care is end of life care and for some it can be difficult to make that call.  It was difficult for Caroll Bushmaker to make the decision to call Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions and watch her husband of 59 years  die in his own bed, but it helped him die the way he wanted.

CARROLL BUSHMAKER:  Hospice came in and quietly took over and told us what we were doing, what medicines we could do, gave a hug or two along the way and dropped back in a little later to see if everything is going fine.  It was the way he wanted to go at home.

BECK:  Bushmaker is no stranger to health care facilities, having volunteered at the Wyoming Medical Center for many years.  But this was far different than being hospitalized. There was much more freedom.  He even went out to dinner with his family shortly before he died.

Jim Dean says that for the last three years, his mother had a tough road. 

JIM DEAN:  COPD, heart disease, at one time she had shingles for quite some time, she had osteoporosis, acid reflux, the list just goes on and on, bowel problems, if it was not one thing it was another.  Just on going for about three years, suffered a lot.

BECK: She died in the Casper Hospice facility the weekend before our interview.  While Johnny and his brother Jim occasionally teared up at the thought of losing their Mom, they spoke to us because of how amazed they were at the care their Mom received.  This is Johnny Dean.

JOHNNY DEAN:  The nurses and the aides were absolutely fantastic.  Not only for the way they comforted Mom, but also the family.  Whatever we wanted we got, I almost felt bad sometimes.

BECK: Jim  Dean takes it one step further.

JIM DEAN:  The best way I can describe it…a perfect place…next to heaven.

JAN PROPER:  So this home has eight beds and I think they finished in 1996.

BECK:  This is Central Wyoming Hospice Director of Nursing Jan Proper giving me a tour of the facility.  It features two homes with dining rooms, a living room area, quiet rooms and of course patient rooms. 

Proper explains that some people come to the Hospice facility while others prefer to have hospice workers come to their home.  But no matter where they are, they have a specific approach.

PROPER:  We will not be invasive into their lives, we will help them wherever they are, we are not changing their lifestyle it’s the disease process, we will just help them through it.

BECK:  The Director of the Facility is Marilyn Conner who makes it clear that Hospice is about living and not about dying.  

MARILYN CONNER:  One of the first questions we ask in our assessment what unmet goals do you have?  And we try and meet those goals.  So, we don’t focus on the disease process as much as we focus on getting the symptoms under control, so that the person can have some quality of life.  They can take that final trip.

BECK:  But Conner’s concern is that people wait too long before they contact a hospice.

CONNER:  In the last three years we’ve seen the average length of stay drop from an average of 64 days a patient down to about 30 days.  And it seems to be a trend that’s continuing.

BECK:  Conner says they can also help facilitate discussion with families on last wishes, financial concerns, as well as provide any counseling.  Sandra Turner said Hospice took care of her Dad on and off for a number of years.  He also spent time in a nursing home.  When he died at the hospice facility this summer, she got to see how they operated first hand.

SANDRA TURNER:  The atmosphere was very sacred and very special.  I know they have several clients, but it felt like he was the only one there with the care that he got.  The way that they interacted and cared for the family, they were there for us every step of the way. 

BECK:   Workers here a preparing meals, while out in the hallway nurses and others also count out medications.  Most Hospice organizations are non-profits who rely on the support of donors.  Depending on the community, this can be a hit or miss proposition.   One idea that’s been floated to legislators is to shift some  room and board money they spend on long care facilities into Hospice Organizations.  They argue that this is a cheaper and better way for lawmakers to spend those dollars, but to date those efforts have failed.  But in the meantime, Marilyn Conner and other Hospice Directors just want to get the word out that the organizations are there to not only helped loved ones who are dying, but the entire family.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck. 

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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