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Time for a critical discussion

Susan Johnson

National Hospice Month also provides an occasion to prompt extremely important discussions with our loved ones and our health care providers about end-of-life wishes.

Hospice offers the end-of-life care settings and services that Americans want. Considered to be the model for high-quality, compassionate care at the end of life, hospice care involves a team-oriented approach to care that encompasses expert medical care, pain-and-symptom management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.

Based on current trends, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization projects that more than three quarters of a million U.S. patients will receive hospice care this year – certainly a large number, but only a fraction of those who could benefit.

Unfortunately, many will receive the care only in the last few weeks of their lives. This means that a million Americans a year are missing the chance to treat pain, give compassionate care, maintain individual dignity and provide a comfortable environment among loved ones – precisely when every day and every connection counts most.

And the impact of this missed opportunity is profound. For instance, research by the National Hospice Foundation has shown that while 80 percent of Americans wish to die at home, less than 25 percent actually do. But this need not be so. At little or no cost, hospice care is available to Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, which is designed to meet the needs of those who have a terminal illness. Nationwide, more than 3,300 hospice providers exist to deliver services in the patient’s home, home-like, or institutional setting. There are no barriers to receiving hospice care other than an understandable fear of discussing death. We plan for weddings, the birth of a child, college, and retirement. But rarely, if ever, do we talk about how we want to live in the final phase of our lives. We’re more willing to talk to our teen-age children about drug abuse or safe sex than to discuss end-of-life care options and preferences with our parents.

It’s not that we Americans don’t make end-of-life decisions. We write a will or purchase life insurance, and we give consent to posthumous organ donation. But we don’t prepare or plan for the actual process of dying.

No society has ever dwelled more on “quality-of-life” concerns. Yet “quality end-of-life” may be our only remaining truly taboo subject. Hospice can help you and your family have the conversation. It can empower you and your family to take control when you feel most powerless.

Locally, hospice services are offered by quality care providers in Eagle County. Please call Mountain Hospice at 569-7455. Mountain Hospice is located in the Edwards Medical Center.

Begin the conversation. It’s the best way to ensure that you, your family, and your loved ones meet one of the most difficult times in life with grace, dignity, comfort, and compassion.

Susan Johnson is the president of Eagle County’s hospicce volunteer advisory board. Other members are Lori Haugland, Jan Jackson, Mary Catherine Moser, Kathy Myers, Margo Peter, Daphne Slevin,, Vanessa Lewis, and Brad Austin.


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