"When people say 'hospice,' the first thing people think about is death, but actually I look at it as being about living," said Linda Wilson, a registered nurse and director of Medi Home Hospice in St. Clairsville.
November is National Hospice Month, and hospices across the country are getting the word out: "By focusing on the individual, not the illness, hospice care honors life's final journey, leaving a legacy of compassion and caring," Wilson said.
Last year, more than 1.45 million Americans received care from more than 4,850 hospice programs, according to Medical Services of America, parent company of Medi Hospice. Hospice uses an interdisciplinary approach to caring for an individual in his or her last days of life.
Mary Meager of Martins Ferry, left, said Medi Hospice aide Jennifer Underwood, right, and director Linda Wilson provided a “personal touch” when her mother, Mary Palmer, was a hospice client in the summer of 2009.
This holistic care includes medical, emotional, social and spiritual support.
On the medical side, hospice provides pain management and symptom control. Hospice does not "help people die," contrary to a common misconception.
Instead, it provides "comfort care" when life-saving measures have been exhausted.Hospice is not only a comfort to clients but provides peace of mind to family members, many of whom are primary caregivers for their loved one.
Mary Meager of Martins Ferry, one of millions of family caregivers in America, said hospice took a burden off her and her husband in her mother's final days in July and August 2009.
The best part, she said, was the "personal touch" provided by the Medi Home staff.
"I was a full-time RN at the (East Ohio Regional) hospital, and I worked midnights. (Medi Hospice) was able to come in early in the morning and bath my mom," she said, mentioning aide Jennifer Underwood by name.
Underwood, she said, shared pictures of and stories about her children with Palmer.
"That was real important to my mom," Meager said.
Meager also appreciated Wilson coming to the home on the first visit.
And the nurse and social worker helped to make sure \the family received all the services they needed, including a hospital bed and other medical supplies, and that Palmer's medications were accurate.
Then there was the hospice chaplain, Rev. Jackson: "My mother loved him to death. She made her peace. She was ready to die," Meager said.
Palmer died of cancer on Aug. 26, 2009. Wilson said hospice services don't end with death. Bereavement support - in the form of phone calls, support groups and even one-on-one counseling if desired - is provided for 13 months following the client's death.
Wilson worked as a hospice nurse before becoming director of Medi Hospice when it opened two years ago.
Medi Hospice is part of Medi Home Health, which has served the Ohio Valley since 1989. A third division is Medi Home Private Care.
It's a hard job, she said, but very rewarding.
"I always considered it a privilege to be able to be in that home with that person at that time of their life, to be there to guide them and take care of them. ... To me, it's like you're walking on sacred ground," Wilson said.
She added that hospice care is available wherever a person is "at home," whether it's in assisted living, a high-rise, their private home or a family member's home.
Patients also can receive care in the hospital.
Another misconception she liked to dispel is that hospice is only for cancer patients.
Anyone with a life-limiting illness in which a physician has certified he or she has six months or less to live may qualify.
Some patients live longer, and hospice can continue providing care as long as the physician determines the disease is progressing.
Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Administration, as well as some private insurances, Wilson said.
Medi Hospice is one of several hospices serving the Ohio Valley, including Amedysis and Valley Hospice.
For information about hospice care, visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization's website at www.nhpco.org or call Medi Hospice, 800-533-5848.