Hospice & Palliative Care Month Salutes Staff & Volunteers

By Dr. Richard Castaldo, Medical Director at Niagara Hospice 

   As the holidays approach, hospice and palliative care professionals and volunteers can reflect on another year of providing specialized services for patients and personalized support for families and caregivers.

   Last year, nearly 1.5 million people in the United States received hospice care, and nearly half of Medicare enrollees were in a hospice program at the time of their death. Since former President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation in 1979 recognizing the value of hospice, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month as been commemorated in November. Forty years later, this distinction continues to highlight the growth of hospice and the benefits it provides to patients.

   This recognition also shines a light on the half-million professionals and volunteers nationwide who contribute their expertise in medical, emotional, spiritual and social services to patients and families. They are committed to delivering care and dignity at the most challenging times while ensuring families have all the information to navigate the various situations that arise with late-stage illnesses.

   Hospice care takes place wherever an individual is most comfortable, including family homes, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and the Niagara Hospice House in Lockport., while palliative care occurs in homes and assisted living facilities

   Staff and volunteers collaborate in a comprehensive approach to treat the patient and family as one unit while customizing the care plan for each patient’s needs and challenges. Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by 30 percent of last year’s patients with Niagara Hospice having some form of dementia. 

   At hospice, patients are not defined by their diagnosis; he or she is treated as unique person who seeks symptom management and comfort. Hospice takes a comprehensive approach in treating the patient and family as one unit and customizing the plan for each person’s needs and challenges. Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent.

   Liberty Home Care’s Pathways palliative care program is another vital component of the continuum of symptom management services available to Niagara County residents with a serious, chronic illness. Palliative care help patients maintain a higher quality life and transition to hospice when the time is right. This program provides nursing, social work case management and spiritual care services to individuals and families to help relieve distressing symptoms while working in tandem with the individual’s physicians.

   In Niagara County, Niagara Hospice and Pathways combine to serve more than 1,000 patients each year. Think about how many people are related to or very close acquaintances of each patient, and you could multiply that figure by 10-20 times. Now you see the larger impact that hospice and palliative care have when the awareness of their support for each family expands to the community level where several thousand people are touched each year.

   When people look back on their hospice experience for a loved one, the sentiment that is often expressed is they wish they had called sooner. Hospice professionals are always available and willing to have early discussions to assess a prognosis and evaluate options and eligibility.

   Even if the time may not be right, clinical staff will follow up on a patient’s status and symptoms that can compound to yield significant decline in managing daily living activities. Admitting patients sooner in the illness progression can provide a longer-term plan to alleviate discomfort and maximize the valuable time left.

Niagara County residents can take pride in knowing that the hospice and palliative care professionals and volunteers are making a difference every day through their unified goals of enhancing quality of life and reducing the burden for loved ones dealing with terminal illnesses.

For more information, visit nhpco.org.

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