Hospice: Death Not Always The Case In Hospice Care

SENIOR REVIEW

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There is a considerable amount of myth surrounding Rural Teams of Arizona Hospice and Palliative Care.

Foremost is that only individuals tottering on the brink of death can take advantage of its services. According to RTA Director Vicki Dietz, that simply isn't true.

Dietz said for more than two years, RTA has offered palliative care to patients receiving treatment for serious illnesses, not people on their death beds.

Payson resident Carolyn Forrester can attest to that.

She signed up for palliative care last December because of the severity of her illness ---- multiple sclerosis--- a disease with grievous effects on the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

Forrester, 50, said that RTA and the personal care giver assigned to her, Kathleen Hughes, have made her situation less formidable.

"Without them, I don't know where I'd be," Forrester said. "(Kathleen) has made a big difference in my life. I don't know too many people here (Payson) and she's willing to go out of her way to do anything she can for me."

Forrester, who has continued to live by herself despite the challenges, said MS has forced her to face many hardships.

"It's difficult, and it's only going to get more difficult," she said. "It's a very progressive disease and mine is progressing very rapidly. But the more help I need, the more help they give me."

Forrester added Hughes has shown her how to better deal with the emotional repercussions of MS as well.

"She helped me with the things I never would have done on my own," she said. "I had a very bad attitude toward the whole disease and I was just not very accepting of it. I was very depressed and, at one point, very self-destructive, and she helped me with that."

Hughes, who has been the palliative care site coordinator for the past two years, said she also benefits from caring for patients.

"I feel like the luckiest person in the world," she said. "I get to get up in the morning and do something I love. This position has given me the opportunity to just be a kind person and I get paid for it."

Another of RTA's primary focuses besides palliative care is its hospice patients. The difference between palliative and hospice is that hospice patients are typically in a more advanced phase of their illness, but Dietz said that doesn't necessarily mean patients are on the verge of death.

"One of the things that people have always thought about hospice is that you have to have a prognosis of six months or less (to live)," she said. "We have people that have been under our care for two years.

"Hospice is about living life to the fullest and not necessarily about dying," Dietz added. "Of course we are all going to die, but the hope is that we will all die with dignity. Hospice makes life better. It makes illness better."

Another myth surrounding RTA is that its services are costly, when in fact, they are free. Potential patients only need call (928) 474-6340 to schedule a visit with RTA to determine their eligibility for one of the two programs.

Forrester added that people with severe diseases should not be afraid to call.

"They're just always there for you," she said. "They really go out of their way to help you and they understand that you're not feeling well and it's a very frightening time. And they help you to go on to the next step, whatever that may be."

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