Dying with dignity

Hospice program serves

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Death and dying are not easy subjects for people to broach. Most people seldom think about it and rarely plan for death. Yet we all know that death is a fact of life. And given the option, many people prefer to die at home rather than in a hospital or nursing home.

As the largest recipient of United Way funds, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is well-known for health education, immunization, Pap smears, well-women checks, birth control and home health care. Another vital service the agency offers is hospice care.

"Hospice gives the client more control -- more choice at the end of their life," said Debbie Haskins, director of Community Care at VNA. "It is about dying with dignity."

She said the hospice program at VNA is the only coordinated program in Routt and Moffat counties that offers the service and includes the whole family. She said that though the numbers vary, about 30 families a year use the service within the two counties, and that one to five families are involved at any one time.

Hospice care through VNA has been in existence for 13 years. The program enables people who are dying to remain at home.

Sandy Beran is the grief and spiritual councilor for hospice. She said VNA has a team approach to hospice care that includes nurses, a social worker, grief and spiritual counselors, home health aides and volunteers.

"The team is dedicated to meeting all the needs of clients and their families," Beran said.

She said that many times, family members take care of the clients and that some of the hospice services are geared to give caregivers a break.

"Something like staying with a client while the caretaker takes a walk, runs errands or gets out of the house, is a huge help," she said. "We can find special equipment, help with things like cleaning, bathing or simply being company for the client."

Beran said volunteers in the program complete several hours of training before they work with the clients. She said the objective is quality of life.

"We want the clients to know they matter, and they are valued," she said.

Susan North's family used the hospice service when her mother became terminally ill two years ago. She said it was a wonderful service for her mother as well as for herself.

"They offered grief counseling, and I knew I needed all the help I could get," North said.

North said she always avoided talking about death and was in denial about her mother. She thinks the therapy showed her how to grieve.

"Grieving is part of life, and they help guide you through the process," she said.

North said the hospice program helped her mother plan her funeral and helped her carry out her mother's last wishes. She was impressed that, two years later, the hospice workers still are concerned with how she is doing.

"I see them in the store and around town, and they still ask about how I am doing," she said.

Kathy Darveau serves as the community resource professional for the hospice program.

Darveau sets up rides, finds equipment, schedules volunteers and helps the family in any way she can.

"We listen and make ourselves available, and make sure they have access to all the services we offer," Darveau said.

She said pain management is one of the most critical elements of hospice, and that the nurses are extensively trained to keep the patient comfortable.

"The nurses work with the clients and know when and what to do," she said.

Darveau said hospice addresses death in a way that is more natural, less clinical and much more personal. It allows the client to be in control.

"This program has helped lots of families, and we are happy to offer it to the community," she said.

The VNA is hosting a grief potluck luncheon Oct 21 for Friends of Hospice and anyone wanting to know more about how to deal with grief or the program.

For more information, call Sandy Beran at 824-8233

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