November is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month

Every November, we commemorate National Hospice & Palliative Care Month in an effort to raise awareness about the benefits and services of hospice and palliative care for people facing late-stage illnesses. It is also a time to salute everything that hospice professionals and volunteers do every day to manage symptoms and provide comfort to patients and families during difficult times.

Each year, nearly 1.5 million people in the United States received hospice care, and almost 50 percent 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. After more than four decades, this distinction continues to highlight the growth of hospice and the benefits it provides to patients.

This annual fall recognition shines a deserving light on the 500,000 professionals and volunteers nationwide who contribute their expertise in medical, emotional, spiritual and social services to patients and families.

Professionals and volunteers can reflect on another dedicated year of providing expert end-of-life care and personalized support to patients, families and caregivers across Niagara County. 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.

Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent. 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.

In Niagara County, Pathways palliative care program is another vital program of the continuum of symptom management services available to Niagara County residents with a serious, chronic illness. Palliative care help patients maintain their quality of life and enables the 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 relieve distressing symptoms while working in tandem with the individual’s physicians.

Niagara Hospice provides care wherever an individual is most comfortable, including family homes, hospitals, long-term facilities and the Niagara Hospice House in Lockport.

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.

Janice Klippert, a Niagara Hospice RN Case Manager, shares her perspective during National Hospice Month in November: 

As an RN case manager in home care, I am on the “front line” for my patients and families. After the admissions team gets the patient admitted, it is my responsibility to manage and anticipate my patient’s and family’s needs. This is achieved through weekly visits, phone calls, symptom management and medication review. At Niagara Hospice, we help to take the “guess work” out of caring for their loved one. By providing our medical expertise and assisting the family in understanding disease progression and symptom management we are able to put families at ease. We let them know that they are not alone in what can be a trying a sad time for them. We are able to provide resources, such as durable medical equipment from Liberty Home Care and home health aides to make it easier to care for patients in the home. We assist patients and families in understanding what medications they are taking and why they are needed.

Our weekly visits allow patients and families know that we are there to support them. Often times, families seem surprised to learn about the medical equipment that we can provide for them. Many times equipment is delivered the same day to the delight and relief of the patient and family. I appreciate all the feedback I receive from my patients and families in Niagara Hospice. I am honored to be able to go in to our patients’ homes to take care of them. Some memorable feedback was a handwritten note sent by a family member after their loved one had passed. It is nice to receive a note of thanks, knowing that the family was appreciative of the care their loved one received. It is an honor to take care of our patients at Niagara Hospice. For me the most rewarding part of being a Hospice RN is helping make my patients comfortable and making this time of transition easier for the families.

During the pandemic, many volunteer activities were stopped to protect everyone. Volunteer tasks shifted from patient visits to making masks, and several hundred masks were made and donated over the last seven months. Niagara Hospice thanks all of our volunteers who have been able to remain active in contributing to patient care and family support during these times of social distancing. To help us commemorate National Hospice Month in November, four Niagara Hospice volunteers share their perspectives below about why they became a volunteer and what it means to them. 

Janet from Ransomville: 

About 20 years ago, my mother was at the end of her life and it was time to bring in hospice. She lived in Erie County, so we brought in Buffalo Hospice for her and they were wonderful. After she passed,  I was laid off from my job and was looking for something to keep me busy. I knew I wanted to volunteer, so I contacted Niagara Hospice to see if they needed help and they did.

For the past 19 years, I have done various tasks for hospice. I started with office work, then did respite care for patients and most recently helped with fundraising. The reason I’ve stayed this long is because of the people. The patients and their families are always so grateful for anything you do for them. The staff can’t thank you enough every time you are at the office or an event. You don’t do it for the gratitude, but it’s nice to be appreciated.

Sue from Lockport:

My desire to volunteer at Niagara Hospice occurred after I received services when my husband neared the end of his Alzheimer’s disease journey. I called and instantly received help and relief I had not had before. I wanted to give back, and help people as I had been helped!  My only other volunteer job before working with Niagara Hospice was when I coached swimming for 10 years, but this is the other end of the spectrum. This role at Niagara Hospice forced me out of my comfort zone, but I have learned to absolutely love meeting with people and offering as much comfort as I can. Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to and tell their story. 

An example of this was one caregiver who didn’t drive, and she never was able to leave the house. I took her shopping somewhere every week, and even if it was snowing, her face was priceless when I arrived! She was like a little kid in a candy store. In the process, she could share with me and help to relieve the stress of her difficult situation. My duties at Niagara Hospice have included everything from office work to special events to visiting people or providing respite for the caregivers. My passion is to meet people where they are and give myself to care about and love other people.

There is no greater feeling than to be there for a family facing end of life, and give a small amount of comfort. The most amazing phenomenon, though, is that those families give me more blessings than I give to them! The synergy is awesome, and what I believe Niagara Hospice is all about—providing comfort and support during people’s most vulnerable time of life.

Winston from North Tonawanda: 

My interests to volunteer were to help needy people in some way. In my search for an opportunity, I saw an ad from Niagara Hospice having an informational meeting so I decided to attend. After learning about the various opportunities to serve people in end-of-life situations, I chose to become one of their volunteers.

Having several choices, I decided I would like to do visitations with patients so I was assigned to a nursing home to make weekly visits. A bit concerned at how I would be received, the first visit with patients was always a challenge. But the results were greater than I expected. My second visit was even better, as I would be greeted with a smile. Our time together in conversation was great and the "thank you" I received was most heartwarming. They were always grateful someone took the time to visit. I always placed myself in their position and know how I would appreciate a visit also. My day felt well rewarded after making my visits.

I also chose to deliver "welcome totes" to new hospice patients who were being cared for in their own homes. This also was very rewarding in extending the care and concern offered by Niagara Hospice. Occasionally I volunteered to make weekly home visits so a patient's family member could run errands. These visits allowed me to become closer with both the patient and the family. I am thankful I chose this volunteer opportunity as my services have been greatly rewarded.

Susan from Lockport:

Volunteering has always been important to me. I always feel I get more in return. I made a  bucket list of organizations that I wanted to give back too. It is always  great to come into Hospice and always feel like I made a difference. 

Whatever I can do for Niagara Hospice is great. I have learned that there are so many things that need to get done to keep the organization running. I enjoy whatever process I can assist in the office, (I love to bake) and  we need to keep those address listings updated!  Love to help out at our fund raiser events and so important being able to be part of the team that goes out in the community and I have learned  so many of the wonderful things Hospice  can do for so many families In need at a most critical time. I believe that  the 2020  pandemic has made us realize how much we need to be with each other and also we have a whole new appreciation of what is important.  

I can only wish that I can come back soon and give the office staff a hand and  assist with wherever else they need me to do.  I volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and I hope in the future I will be able to bring some of the experiences and training that I have to Niagara Hospice.The staff so appreciates volunteers and we in turn love them too. It really is wonderful to be appreciated and I need to bake cookies for someone other than me and my husband. I firmly believe our crazy world is a better place because of the volunteers at Niagara Hospice. 

 

 

 

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