When a family prepares to welcome a new life, months are spent in preparation. Terri Graham only wishes people would spend as much time readying for the end of life as well.
“When we come into this world, if you think about a baby being born, it's nine months. There is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into that. And it should be — it's a celebration,” says Graham, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer [AH1] of Hosparus Health. “And yet when we're leaving this world, no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to think about it. No one wants to prepare for it.”
There’s a simple reason for that — dying is scary. And yet, a lack of planning over those final months can rob both terminally ill patients and their families of the improved quality of life that hospice can offer. Because people often wait too long to turn to hospice, the industry constantly battles the myth that it’s only for those with a few days left to live. Meanwhile, patients and families miss out on the chance to make special memories together by turning too late to a team that can address emotional and spiritual needs as well as medical issues like pain relief.
Hosparus Health has been a fixture in the Louisville community since 1978 and has provided care to thousands of patients and families in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Their goal is to help people live better and longer — and the earlier they’re contacted, the more they’re able to assist. Graham clears up five common misconceptions about hospice care.
1. Choosing hospice means giving up
Any patient battling a serious illness is initially focused on the disease, the prognosis, the treatment options. Making the decision to call hospice is not giving up, it is refocusing priorities to live more moments and make more memories., It becomes a matter of enhancing quality of life and helping patients live how they want to live during the time they have left. Hosparus Health asks both patients and family members about what’s most important to them, and then works to make those choices a reality.
“We ask, ‘What’s most important to you today?’ Initially it might be ‘I don’t want to have so much pain’, and once we address the pain, it might be ‘I want to get outside and enjoythe garden’. And for Hosparus, our response is ‘OK, let’s make that happen.’ Graham said. “Our mission is to help that patient create more moments. We usually start by helping to manage the symptoms so the patient can comfortably enjoy family and friends. After symptoms are being managed, we can move to creating those special moments which might be as elaborate as I want to go to the beach one more time, or as simple as I want to sit in the front porch swing and hold my husband’s hand.
2. Hospice is for only the final days
Medicare and most insurance companies follow the same guidelines, Graham says: “Hospice is for anyone whom a physician has determined has a life expectancy of six months or less. Patients who exceed that expected life span are still able to receive Hosparus Health’s care. “There's a myth of, ‘If I get hospice care, that means that I'm going to die right away.’ But the truth is, that myth persists because in many instances, people wait too long to engage our care, and consequently they do die within a few days. However, many patients receive hospice care for a longer period and really get the benefit of the hospice team helping them truly prepare for their end of life.” Graham adds.
3. Hospice is only for cancer patients
Cancer patients total less than half of those receiving care at Hosparus Health. “We serve cancer patients, but we also serve patients who have a diagnosis of cardiac disease, congestive heart failure, conditions like COPD and other types of lung disease, stroke or dementia.” Graham says. “Hosparus Health’s care is really for anyone facing a life-limiting diagnosis.”
4. Hospice means giving up your doctor and medication
Hospice patients retain their choice of medical practitioner, Graham says. “If they have a regular physician who has been overseeing their care, and they want that to continue, then we absolutely work with that physician,” she adds. “We develop an individualized plan of care, which is going to change over time based on what's going on with the patient. But we always collaborate with the patient’s physician, whoever that is, in developing those updates. If the patient or physician says, ‘I'd rather have one of the hospice doctors go ahead and start to manage the care,’ we can do that, too.”
As for medications, patients will continue to receive what’s needed for their illness and individual plan of care. “We do a thorough review of all medications to ensure they are still appropriate. Graham says. “Somettimes a patient may have been taking a medication for years, and maybe nobody has asked, ‘Why are you taking this?’ A medication started 20 years ago may not be needed today, and the risks of a certain medication may outweigh the benefits.”
5. Morphine used in hospice hastens death
Not every patient at Hosparus receives morphine, because not all need it, Graham says. Still, the false notion persists that choosing hospice means copious amounts of morphine that will hasten a patient’s death.
“Morphine is a very good medication for managing symptoms when it’s needed,” Graham adds. “When we use it there are symptoms that need to be managed. Dosages start off at a lower level. And as a person’s symptoms increase, then yes, the dosage increases, but morphine is not used to hasten death.”
Clearing up these and other misconceptions about hospice care is essential in increasing access to the compassionate care and support Hosparus Health can offer patients and families who are navigating serious illness.
“If Hosparus is contacted earlier, then you really have an ability to enhance the quality of life and get more out of those days, weeks and months with family members than maybe you would otherwise. You really get to prepare for the end of life,” Graham says.
Interested in learning more about hospice, and what it may offer your family? Referrals can be made by any person 24/7. Simply call Hosparus Heath at (800) 264-0521, request a consult visit by completing their online form, or visit their website at HosparusHealth.org to learn more.