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National Hospice & Palliative Care Month: Understanding hospice care

Hospice staff provides nursing, emotional and spiritual support for families embracing the natural stages of the dying process

Happy mature woman and female doctor wearing protective face masks during a home visit.
Hospice care at MRH Memorial Regional Health offers hospice care that provides end-of-life, palliative care for patients with a life-limiting condition. Hospice care is provided by an interdisciplinary team to administer physical, psychological, spiritual and sociological care. MRH offers hospice services in the home or in a clinical setting, if necessary.   For more information, please visit memorialregionalhealth.com/healthcare-services/hospice, call 970-824-6882, or contact Kristine Cooper directly at Kristine.cooper@memorialrh.org or 970-826-2421.

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Each November, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice recognizes National Hospice and Palliative Care Month to honor the millions of nurses, aides, therapists and social workers who make a difference in the lives of the patients and families they serve. These caregivers play a large role in the healthcare system and home care across the nation.

About 90 percent of Americans want to age in their homes, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice reports. The most common diagnoses that call for hospice care are Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, according to 2018 statistics from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

When patients need hospice care, family members and other loved ones can often feel overwhelmed with emotions.

Kristine Cooper, executive director of Home Health and Hospice at Memorial Regional Health, knows it can be difficult for patients and their families to understand what hospice care is and when it’s necessary. She said Memorial Regional Health has a caring and supportive hospice team that can help alleviate some of these feelings for patients and their families.

“Our team has been providing home care locally for over 25 years,” Cooper said. “We are connected to our community, and I think that’s something that speaks to our patient population.”

When hospice care is necessary

Hospice care is geared towards assisting patients and their families on transitioning and coping with an end-of-life terminal illness. Hospice is necessary and available for patients who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting or terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less to live.

Hospice provides nursing, emotional and spiritual support. Hospice can also provide support for physical, occupational and speech therapy with the focus of helping patients navigate around safely at home.

“It’s really focused on that comfort of care — we are not curing or treating the patient so that their health improves, or they get better,” Cooper explained.

Support and bereavement services are also offered for the family after their loved one passes away. This service is available for up to 13 months.

According to Julie Gates, director of nursing for MRH Home Health and Hospice, nurses and staff primarily focus on symptom management with hospice patients. They take patients’ vital signs, perform wound care, administer medications and give vaccinations.

“We are the eyes and ears for the patient’s physician while we are in the home,” Gates explained. “We sometimes treat our patients using a holistic approach, which means no administering of medication, just sitting and listening, playing music or even using essential oils for relaxation.”


The end goal is to collaborate with the patient, their family and their primary care doctor to come up with a plan to make the patient comfortable in the last minutes, hours, days, weeks or months they may have left.

“The patient is the boss,” Gates said. “We listen to how they feel, what concerns or fears they may have about dying, and then we concentrate on working through them.”

Hospice myths

One myth about hospice care is that hospice hastens death, but research has shown that hospice care has a positive impact on a patient’s overall quality of life. Gates said that hospice is about quality over quantity, and several patients live longer than expected while in hospice.

“Hospice really embraces the natural stages of the dying process and neither intends to hasten or prolong death,” Cooper said. “Our team partners with the patient and family on the journey.”

Another myth mentioned often is that hospice is expensive. Medicare typically covers the cost of hospice, including medications to treat symptoms related to the patient’s terminal diagnosis as well as equipment needed to care for the patient safely in their home, Cooper explained.

“Hospice is not about giving up hope, it’s about refocusing hope,” she said. “With hospice, there is hope that pain and other symptoms can be managed so that loved ones can live their best life in their final days.”

About hospice at MRH

Hospice care at Memorial Regional Health is accredited by the prestigious Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC), meaning MRH offers some of the best care in the nation. Services provide support not only to the patient but also to the caregivers, and the MRH team has extensive experience in home health, hospice, wound care and grief support.

The team consists of nurses, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a social worker, an administrator, an office manager and local Chaplains. Gates said MRH hospice staff goes above and beyond every day to ensure patients are comfortable and know they are a priority.

“One example would be providing groceries to one of our hospice patient’s family because they were unable to make it to the store,” she said. “But sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone isn’t going above and beyond, it is the simple things, like having time to just be with a family and listen to what they have to say.”


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