Hospice Workers Make A Difference

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With the tenet of, "If a patient needs it, they get it," the staff of RTA Hospice and Palliative Care provide their patients with more than just quality and dignity of life in a home setting. They take time to listen to not only their patients' physical needs, but to the desires of their hearts.

Angel Flights helped a man who was dying. His dream was to fish for salmon with his daughter who lived in a remote area of Alaska, accessible only by plane. The social worker made it happen.

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Cynthia Miller, house mother for the inpatient facility, CNA, runner of errands and chef, works 11 hours a day, seven days a week, then has a week off. Miller, who has been doing home health care and working with the elderly for years said emphatically, "I like it. It's very rewarding. No matter how small or large, if we are making them (patients) be more comfortable; putting a smile on their face; bettering their quality of life, then it's worth it."

The Alaska trip "is an extreme example of taking care, not only of the dying person's physical body, but taking care of that body in such a way that allows the person to fulfill the dreams they have, whether they pertain to reconciliations with family, or closure, or going to the opera," said Lorna Hansen, RTA's patient care administrator.

Hospice serves patients in a wide territory, which encompasses Blue Ridge, Young and the Roosevelt Lake area.

"We always try to meet the needs of the patients where they are at," Hansen said.

With the patient at the center of their treatment team, everyone must agree on the plan of care.

From the interdenominational chaplain, who is there to discuss spiritual matters with the family, to the certified nursing assistants and social workers, to the volunteers, patients are surrounded with compassion.

Hospice volunteers, said Hansen, are the best trained in the state of Arizona. She estimates there are 48 active volunteers in the program and another 18 who contribute their time sporadically. Volunteers sit with patients and listen, take them on outings such as fishing or help them with domestic chores.

When a patient's needs cannot be met at home, there are seven beds at the hospice house. The rooms are as warm and cozy as a hospital room can be made to feel, complete with an outside sitting area.

Patients usually remain in the hospice house for four to five days where intense system management is provided, often involving pain management.

One needs a doctor's referral to be admitted to hospice, but it does not have to be the primary care physician. Often, firemen, policemen or clergy will urge the person they are helping to seek the aid of hospice.

Patients are accepted regardless of their ability to pay.

Joe Wilson, RN, CHPN (Certified Hospice Palliative Nurse), is a man who usually has a big smile on his face. Wilson, the inpatient manager, said the idea of patients coming into the patient wing to die is a misconception.

While dying in a hospice bed does occur, many patients walk out, waving back at him.

"You come here to accelerate your quality of life," he said.

Hospice is not just for the elderly. Recently several children and a couple of teenagers and their families were assisted by the hospice staff.

Hansen believes there are parallels between the birth room and the death room. It is a "spiritual gift and an awesome moment," to be invited into a person's -- a family's -- life as it is ending.

"We are touched, as friends, as peers, as co-workers," she said.

Hospice touches base with the family 24 hours after death. There are RTA representatives, sometimes the entire team, at the funeral. Hospice then keeps in contact with the family for 13 months.

Bereavement counseling is available for families. Such counseling also provides staff members with a safety net for their own emotional health.

A cork board for the staff in each wing of the hospice facility has many notes tacked on it, under the proclamation, "You Made A Difference When ..."

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