Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Cost of Dying

A front-page article in Sunday’s (6/24/12) St. Louis Post-Dispatch told the shocking story of a local woman who spent six months in and out of hospitals and care facilities, obtaining treatments for the various maladies that led to her eventual death. The story pointed out the total bill for her medical care was $1.16 million dollars!

Shouldn’t there have been some mention of hospice as a less costly alternative to in-patient hospital care?

The article was timed to run just before the expected Supreme Court decision on “Obamacare.” The article contained a good deal of timely, important information. And the writer, Jim Doyle, may have wanted to focus primarily on the specific issue of spiraling costs of hospital stays and services.

As “Sixty Minutes” pointed out in a segment titled “The Cost of Dying” that aired in 2009, huge amounts are spent on treatments that are often unsuccessful.

We are blessed in St. Louis with some of the best medical personnel and facilities in the US and we applaud their great work. But, as the Post-Dispatch story and the “60 Minutes” piece point out, the costs of care for elderly patients are skyrocketing. Should there be more discussion of hospice care in doctors’ offices AND in media coverage of the healthcare? We think so.

Many patients and families have found hospice care preferable to going in and out of the hospital, with cost not even considered as a factor in those feelings. But the truth is hospice care is less costly than hospital stays.

Had the woman in the Post-Dispatch story been in hospice care, her final months may have been more comfortable for her than described in the article. The story mentions that she spent only 22 nights at home during her six months of treatment. Had she been a hospice patient, she could have, presumably, spent every night in her own home.

The real value of hospice care to the patient is the pain management that hospice provides. The real value of hospice care to those of us who fund Medicare is the efficiency and less costly expense of hospice care.












The Last Moments of Life

When a family member is in the very last stages of life, those who are serving as caregivers face a series of crucial tasks. Hospice team members provide caregivers with huge amounts of information. Caregivers can also obtain guidance from books or online sources about how to handle those last days, hours and minutes of a person’s life.

Of course, your hospice medical staff is on standby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are available to provide comfort to patients and to help caregivers take care of a patient’s basic needs.

Your hospice chaplain and social worker can tell caregivers how to deal with their own stress as they try to ease the dying process for their loved one.

Your loved one may go in and out of consciousness during the final days and hours of life. Take advantage to those moments of alertness—brief though they may be—to offer your message of love.

As a patient prepares to die, he or she may want certain assurances: An assurance that things or people they were responsible for, will be taken care of. That their life had meaning. That they will be remembered. That survivors can make it without them.

When the actual moment of death approaches, it is important to remember that hearing is the last of the five senses to go. Even if the person seems to be sleeping or unresponsive, she or he may still hear everything being said.

If other family members choose not to be present at your loved one’s passing, do not criticize them for their absence. Some people may not be able to handle the pain of watching a loved one move on from his or her earthly life.

Remember that your hospice team members are a valuable resource. Their top priority is patient comfort. But hospice staff also provides counsel and support to caregivers and family members. Get to know your hospice professionals early in the dying process, if possible, and don’t hesitate to call on them during the patient’s final days.

For more information on what to expect during the final days, hours and minutes of a patient’s life, call Hope Hospice at 314-984-9800.



Celebrating Father’s Day with Your Dying Father

For family members whose fathers are in hospice care, dealing with a terminal illness, Father’s Day can be a painful occasion.

Last month, family members of mothers who are receiving hospice care and facing death may have had difficulties experiencing Mother’s Day.

As with Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays that are major milestones in our lives, these “special” days can have extraordinary meaning. When we think that next year on Father’s Day, our father may not be with us, it can be overwhelming.

Hope Hospice chaplain John Wilson agrees that, for some, the prospect of a loved one’s yet-to-come passing may be as hard to face as the grief that follows death.  For a caregiver and other family members, anticipating what lies ahead can be stressful.

To those individuals who may be thinking, “this will probably be dad’s last Christmas (or Father’s Day),” Wilson urges family members to “enjoy these moments and involve and engage that person as much as possible.”

Spending time with your father is something a loving son or daughter should do when dad is in good health. Sometimes work and other priorities prevent our being able to be with him. But as death approaches, the effort must be made to spend time with one’s father as often as possible—even if he is hundreds of miles away.

Try not to avoid that Father’s Day visit, even if you fear it may be too much to bear. It’s okay to be sad and even to shed a tear. But while you dad is still around, your Father’s Day visit is one to be savored and remembered. If you think it will cause sorrow, consider the disappointment if you choose not to visit.

If you have concerns about visiting a dying father on Father’s Day or about the approaching death of a family member, call chaplain John Wilson at Hope Hospice at 314-984-9800.






A Hope Hospice Hero

At Hope Hospice, we designate our employee of the month as that month’s “Hope Hospice Hero.” It’s appropriate, because our employees truly are heroes to our patients, our patients’ family members and other caregivers.

Our Hope Hospice Hero for April is one of our nurses, Jason Winfrey. Jason is not only a hero to those listed above, he is also a hero to a number of students in the African nation of Liberia.

Jason is a St. Louis native who attended Vianney High School, then received a BS degree in Nursing from Saint Louis University. After working in ICUs around town, he became a Medical Missionary through the SMA Fathers organization, a religious missionary congregation that was founded to evangelize Africa.

He went to Liberia, on Africa’s west coast, in 2001. During his time there he provided basic medical care to many. He shared the religious message of the Catholic church. He met several young people who had big ambitions. Although a college education in Liberia is inexpensive by US standards, many poor people in Liberia cannot afford those tuition fees.

A few years after his return to the US, Jason set up his own scholarship fund called HOPE, which stands for Having Opportunities for Powerful Education. (This name was chosen several years before he began working for Hope Hospice.) With help from friends, family, garage sales and his own personal contributions, HOPE has been able to help a number of Liberian students attend college and begin their paths to better lives.

Jason had the opportunity to return to Liberia last month and see some of the results of his fund’s efforts and visit with those who received its benefits. Among them was HOPE’s first 4-year business course graduate. He says of his efforts to help those in Liberia, “It’s just like doing hospice work—it’s all about love and compassion.”

Laura Bilbrey, Hope Hospice vice-president and co-founder, says, “Jason is a perfect example of what a Hospice Nurse is all about. Caring, compassionate, dedicated to his work, most of all, his patients. I absolutely love Jason as a person, a friend, & an employee.”

At Hope Hospice, we applaud our employees for their contributions beyond their work environment, in the local community and in the world community.