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Archive for Sunday, October 6, 1996

HOSPICE OF DOUGLAS COUNTY

October 6, 1996

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Hospice is defined as a place of shelter for travelers, a home for the sick or poor, or a homelike facility to provide supportive care for terminally ill patients.

For Hospice Care in Douglas County, the definitions don't go far enough.

Hospice has been in Lawrence since 1982 to help patients with terminal illness to live their last days with dignity and without pain. In addition, Hospice supports the families of patients by helping them deal with the death of a loved one.

Mary Schuman, 79, moved into a mobile home in Lawrence from Texas with her 45-year-old son in November 1995 after she was diagnosed with a serious heart problem. Since then, Hospice has been with her.

``Oh, I could have never hung on this long if Hospice was not there,'' Schuman said. "They are so nice. They are all so kind and listen to you. I could not have asked them to be nicer.''

Schuman appreciates all her visitors, especially those from Hospice. Nurses help her with medicine. A volunteer, who studies music therapy, visits and, with Schuman's help, composes a song about her life, and they make a recording. Spiritual coordinators discuss her spiritual needs. And a volunteer comes everyday to help her take a shower, get dressed, make her bed and comb her hair.

Hospice cares for people with terminal illness in their homes by providing emotional, physical and spiritual support. Hospice also stays involved even if patients must enter a hospital or nursing home.

A key element of Hospice is providing the same support for the families, said Kay Metzger, director of Hospice Care of Douglas County.

For example, Schuman said Hospice was helpful to her son, a carpenter who was busy working.

Called respite care, it is aimed at helping and supporting family caregivers. Usually, it's demanding, physically and emotionally, on family members taking care of terminally ill family members, Schuman said. Volunteers take over the care of patients to give families a break.

The bereavement program also is aimed at families. The program supports families and friends of the patient after a death, Metzger said.

Hospice Care of Douglas County, 336 Mo., a non-profit organization, is one of 30 agencies of United Way of Douglas County. This year, Hospice will receive $17,149 from United Way and to be used for the bereavement program, which is required but not funded by Medicare, Metzger said.

Hospice has 15 employees, most of them part-time, and about 40 volunteers. They include physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual coordinators and bereavement counselors.

The Hospice nurses are available to patients 24 hours a day. Nancy White, a Hospice nurse, takes care of four patients. White visits Schuman and other patients at least once a week. White works with a social worker, spiritual care coordinator and volunteers based on her patients' needs.

Pain management is an important part of Hospice, White said, so their patients, many of whom have cancer, can live pain free. If the patient can manage their pain, she said, they can feel better about doing things such as sleeping, eating and participating in activities. The method of pain management varies with patients. In addition to medication, Hospice incorporates music therapy, which provides a diversion from pain, she said.

Debra Stang, a volunteer who graduated from Kansas University in May, started working last September at Hospice. Her grandmother's death motivated her to join Hospice because Hospice was not available where her grandmother died.

Her grandmother, who had lived in a nursing home, kept saying that she knew she was going to die but that nobody in the nursing home was trained to work with her in dealing with impending death. Her grandmother had to cope with it on her own, Stang said.

``I wish she would have been able to have had someone whom she could talk to about her death and dying,'' Stang said. ``So, I decided that I wanted to do something for this Hospice here.''

Volunteers undergo 18 hours of training before they are eligible to work in Hospice. Stang went through the training that prepared her to deal with everything from helping a patient move from a wheelchair to a bed to dealing with the grieving process associated with the death of a loved one.

``There are all kinds of people among the volunteers -- young, old, all kinds of religion, men and female,'' she said. ``The only thing they have in common is they care a lot about people they are working with.''

Metzger said Hospice is important ``because we are not dwelling on death. We are dwelling on living -- how we can help this person to live comfortably in this situation until the end and have the maximum quality of life.''

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