Professionals in Hospice Share Perspective on Their Rewarding Work
Hospice is a word that carries much emotional weight for patients and families.
The health care professionals who make up every aspect of hospice care understand the gravity of the situation that families face, as well as the emotional toll.
Hospice requires a seriousness that is coupled with compassion and the knowledge that goes into care for the body, mind and more than anything – the spirit.
Jody Paulsen, MSW, a patient-care coordinator with Avera@Home, said that when people ask her about her profession, she often hears them say, “I don’t know how you can do that job.” She explained how she approaches it.
“It can be an emotionally draining job, but it’s very rewarding and spiritual,” Paulsen said. “We walk into people’s lives as strangers at a very intimate time, and we provide care to their loved one and through that, begin to develop a closeness that will allow us to provide comfort in many aspects of their life. We are honored to be a part of it.”
Hospice care makes tremendous differences in the lives of patients and families, yet for many people it is a foreign part of health care, says Paulsen.
“Education is key, because when people hear the word hospice, they often become frightened. They assume when that word is said, that they are nearing the end of life very, very soon. That’s not always the case,” she said. “Long before we each were born, God determined the day and time we would leave this earth, with no regard to the diseases and illnesses we would encounter. So for our team, we see the start of care as a beginning to something focused on them, and on all parts of their care and comfort.”
The Team’s Lineup
When a physician or provider determines a patient would benefit from hospice care, be it in a facility or at home, Paulsen sits down with the family and explains hospice care and its benefits.
When the family and patient decide that they want begin hospice, the behind-the-scenes staff begin to prepare the chart as well as all the insurance and medical information.
The nurse will assess the patient and their physical condition, keeping the patient’s comfort and medical needs as the priority and focus of the entire team. The nurse serves as the communicator for the doctor, the patient and the family.
Aides may assist with bathing or daily living needs, and they may also do light housekeeping to assist caregivers in providing for the needs of their loved one. They may also provide a family caregiver a needed break.
Social workers handle a variety of hospice needs. They educate family members about the stages of illness progression, and they help families navigate through the dying process, which often means they offer emotional and psychological support. At times, the process can include guiding families as they look to resolve lifelong conflicts. In certain cases, the patient and family may feel some comfort, after enduring many years of pain. The hospice social worker is also helpful in locating extra resources the family and patient may need.
Each Role is Vital
Volunteers hold their own unique roles, and they are called upon to spend one-on-one time with the patient doing things they enjoy. They might accompany them on a walk outdoors, play cards, attend Mass or simply visit and hold a patient’s hand. Many times these one-on-one activities help comfort families when they cannot be there with the ones they love.
Chaplains are another linchpin in the hospice team’s effort. Their special training focused on end-of-life spiritual issues helps them to augment the care the rest of the team has provided. Even with appropriate care approaches and significant pain medication, a patient may still feel restless. It’s in these cases when chaplains and the team often find the pain is not physical. The chaplain can help the patient and family explore this spiritual realm, and guide them as they work through the issues, in hopes it will provide peace and comfort.
“It really takes every member of the team working in unison to effectively care for a hospice patient,” Paulsen said. “We meet as a team weekly, and we review each hospice patient twice monthly to make sure all aspects of their care are being adjusted according to the progression of their illness.”
Paulsen said the work is much more than a job for each member.
“We truly care about our patients and their comfort,” she said. “We are so honored to be a part of their journey.”