Frontline Responders: Hospice helping patients pass with dignity

So many people have the misconception that hospice is about death. When, in reality, hospice care is about life.
Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 10:38 PM CST
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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - When people hear the word hospice, it is often thought of as a death sentence, something to be feared. When hospice and the people who work in this medical field should be seen as a gift to those who are terminally ill and to their families.

News 11 sat down with Ashley Sims and Terri Morrow, two local hospice workers who are hoping that people can one day see hospice as not a negative experience. I asked each of them what being a hospice worker meant to them, and they both agreed it was a very rewarding experience.

“You know, being there with these patients and with their families during what is, you know, definitely the worst time of their Life.” SAID SIMMS, who is a hospice nurse.

While the main focus of any Hospice worker is the patient, Hospice care goes way beyond that.

“Yes, definitely, not just about the patient. I mean, and most of, a lot of our cases, you know, our patients don’t know us, Recognize us, at times they’re even unresponsive. You know our main focus is obviously the patient and their comfort, but it’s also support Care for the family.”

News 11 asked Morrow, the director of a local hospice, what support care meant.

“Oh, it’s all the way from where we have the chaplain, we have the social worker. A lot of times, when we do an admission, a family has just been told they’ve got two weeks to live, three weeks to live Last week they were working a job, you know they don’t know about burial. They don’t know about the end of life. The process of it. So, we our staff just comes together, our team does and we, we just get it done.

We handle the spiritual. A lot of people are at the end of life, you know, that’s when they really want the chaplain there. The social worker handles a lot of the burial, making sure people have power of attorney. That type of stuff. Just every aspect. We do nursing home placement if the family can’t care for them in their home or they choose to put them in a nursing home, so they are receiving 24/7 care. A lot of families don’t have the support and finances to have 24/7 care.

Once they pass, we follow the family for 13 months with a bereavement coordinator and that is huge to the families, to receive cards and calls and letters in the mail. Just you know where you know that we’re still thinking about you. And it means a lot to the families.” said Morrow

In 2022, this hospice alone reported over 165 deaths. That’s over 3 deaths a week. We asked how they get up every day and find the win in a situation where patients have terminal illness and career where death is seen so much.

Morrow answered “It’s a hard, hard job. But we also know that we’re doing... we’re making an impact in their lives and we’re making it easier, you know, for people. They know you’re coming. They know you’re going to show up. They know the aid is going to come and give Daddy a bath, so I don’t, you know, as a daughter, I don’t have to give Daddy a bath. You know, as a wife, I don’t have to, you know, worry about how you know, if I don’t know what his blood pressure is or whatever It is. They know we’re coming, and it is rewarding. Sometimes it is very hard and we all cry. We’re all we’re all human.”

One common misconception of Hospice is that it always means death is imminent, but some people do graduate out of Hospice care.

“Patients, we get them on service, and you know maybe they were having a bad time with their Illness, you know. Maybe they were having, like a COPD exacerbation, or their CHF wasn’t well controlled, and we get them on service. And with our support, you know, they’re taking their meds, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and they don’t really get any worse. And it eventually gets to the point where you have to tell them you’re too good for us (hospice). You know, and it’s always sad because you feel like you’re losing them. You feel like you’re taking something away from them, but the way I try to explain it to them is this is a good thing. You know there’s only two ways to get off Hospice and this is the best way if you graduate Hospice.” said Sims.

Another misconception is the cost. With the amount of care patients and their families receive, how do people afford Hospice care?

“None of our patients receive a bill, no matter what type of insurance they have. We cover everything. We cover the visits from the staff. We cover the medications that are related to their diagnosis and extra. We cover all the equipment in your home that you should need. The bereavement afterwards. We cover inpatient stays if you should need that. We cover respite care for the caregivers.” said Morrow.

There are unfortunate times where a patient does not have family or friends to help care for them. That’s where these Hospice workers go above and beyond what is required of them. For instance, they helped a homeless man suffering from congestive heart failure.

Morrow told the story “One of our marketers was just driving down the road and she said that she just felt called to a guy that she saw sitting on a park bench. He was suffering with congestive heart failure; he had not had his medicines for two weeks. Somebody had stolen his medicines and stolen his blood pressure pills. And we admitted him on the side of the road on a park bench. He told her, he said ‘I prayed, and I called out to God this morning and told God that I needed some help.’ And he said, ‘God told me your angel’s coming today.’ And he said, ‘There you were’. And now he’s living in his own home. A very nice place, and he’s living independently. And he’s doing so much better.”

The beauty of Hospice care is the daily visits patients receive from their CNA’s. One local CNA, nicknamed with this Hospice company “The Goat” puts her heart into every patient she has. Even going as far as washing their clothes for them when they don’t have access to a washer or dryer.

Sims said “One patient we have, she washes his clothes because he does not have a washer and dryer at his home, and she wants him to have clean clothes to put on after she gives him a bath. All of our CNA’s, they just do little things for patients. You know, a lot of these patients in the nursing facilities, they don’t have their own deodorant or anything like that. The CNA’s buy the stuff that the patients need... deodorant, lotion.”

“And I can tell you, we’ve got some of the best aides I’ve ever worked with in 23 years.” Morrow added.

When the end of life does come for a patient. What does the Hospice do then? There are the big things like calling the coroner, but there are other services that someone may never think about, like providing dignity for the patient who has passed and for their loved ones.

“You know cleaning them up, making them look presentable, just trying to make them look more like themselves.” said Sims

Morrow also said “You know a lot of times our patients have a lot of tubes, or they have, you know, foley catheters. So, we come in. We take all that out. We brush their hair; we wash their face. They get a bath. We help give them dignity.”

“Definitely dignity, because for the family. You know that you don’t want that to be the version that they have with their loved one.” added Sims

When it was my turn (Cara Shirley) to do frontline responders, I knew I wanted to highlight hospice workers. And I remember wondering if I would be able to speak with someone who had been on the receiving end of hospice care when it hit me. I am that person. Had it not been for hospice, my family would not have been able to provide the high level of care my friend Ken “The Kenman” Stokes received in his last days. Hospice made it possible for Ken to die in comfort and surrounded by love. They gave him a passing that he was, in some part, able to do on his own terms. And now that he is gone, they’re providing my family the comfort and tools to grieve his death in a healthy and supportive way.

So many people have the misconception that hospice is about death. When, in reality, hospice care is about life.