by Bill Batson
The cruelest moment of social distancing during a pandemic comes at the end of life. Almost all of the 56,000 Americans (as of 4/28/20) who have been lost to the novel coronavirus met their demise without the company of loved ones. When I was informed by nursing home staff that my mother had COVID-19 symptoms, I implored the doctor to approve her enrollment with United Hospice. I might not be at her side, but the profession committed to bringing comfort and alleviating pain would be there for her.
Thank heaven, my mother is in no hurry to meet her maker. She has rallied in recent weeks and may survive the six-months life expectancy required for hospice eligibility. But when the light of life dims, the promise of United Hospice can be engaged again, to ensure that the end need not be a cold departure but a warm embrace.
United Hospice provides a wide range of services to individuals facing serious illness and their families. This was the third occasion we were confronted with the challenge of making end-of-life decisions. Each time, all of our most urgent personal and professional needs were met by United Hospice.
Hospice provides palliative care that not only eases the physical suffering of the patient, but also reduces the emotional and psychological stress of the caretaker. The living have been called upon since time immemorial to witness their loved ones shuffle off this mortal coil. But since the mid-20th century, the health care community has begun to pay more attention to the particular needs of the elderly and the terminally ill.
In medieval times, a hospice was a place of shelter for the weary or for travelers who encountered medical misfortune on a long journey. British physician Dame Cicely Saunders first used the term in a clinical setting for her work with the terminally ill, creating the first modern hospice–St. Christopher’s Hospice, in London, in 1948.
In 1963, Saunders was invited to lecture at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she introduced the concept of specialized care for the dying to medical practitioners in the United States. Six years later, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published the seminal work, On Death and Dying, a book based on more than 500 interviews with dying patients.
CEO, Amy Stern
On June 12, 2020, Amy Stern is retiring after 32 years of service. United Hospice Chief Operating Officer, Cara Pace, has been appointed to be the next CEO. This will assure a smooth transition.
Amy Stern has led United Hospice since 1989. She was hired in 1988 as their first social worker. Before UH, Amy’s work included the establishment of a palliative care home care program at Good Samaritan Hospital and social work in acute care hospitals and foster care settings.
“We know firsthand from our observations and from what has been conveyed to us by patients and families that people reap the largest benefit from hospice when they access hospice services sooner rather than later,” Stern said. “We continue to be surprised by how many Rocklanders are unaware of the services we provide or have inaccurate information about eligibility and the services we provided. Studies have demonstrated that hospice patients live longer than their counterparts that do not use hospice services.
Hospice care is not a death sentence. We help to improve quality of life, reduce caregiver burden, and provide invaluable resources.”
For additional information visit United Hospice.
By the late 1980s, there were three organizations attempting to offer hospice-like services in Rockland County. A strong desire to have a a true hospice organization led these groups to form United Hospice of Rockland in 1988. (The organization recently dropped “Rockland from their name as they expand their services to other counties.)
UH envisions a community in which all individuals and their loved ones facing serious illness can retain their dignity and hope while receiving quality care. UH’s mission is to honor life, give care, and bring comfort. The services they provide can take place in a patient’s home or at the Joe Raso Hospice Residence that opened in New City in 2012.
A patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness and have a six-month or less life expectancy to be eligible for hospice services. UH works with patients and their families to develop a personalized plan of care. Guidance and support includes:
- Nurses, including on-call nurses who are available 24 hours/day
- Home health aides
- Social workers
- Physician care
- Spiritual support
- Therapies (physical, respiratory, occupational, speech, music and massage)
- Medical equipment and supplies
- Bereavement counseling
Our family has relied upon the services of United Hospice three times in the last 12 years. In our household, taking one’s last breath at home in bed is the preferred, time-honored tradition. My father, William Prime Batson, and his sister, Frances Adeline Batson, struggled to grant that wish to their mother, Frances Lillian Avery Batson.
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When Frances and Prime, as their friends called them, requested that same consideration, my cousin Sylvia Peterson and I were compelled, by their example, to accommodate them. We both feel strongly that the services of UH made it possible for us to fulfill that promise.
Since the cost of hospice care is significantly less than hospitalization, coverage is available from Medicaid, Medicare, and most insurance carriers.
A team of people and a variety of equipment vendors helped transform a room in our home into a hospice setting. On a good day, that task would have been daunting. While overcome with despair, it would have been impossible. Hospice assumed the logistical and medical responsibilities, leaving our family to sit, dine, and commune with our nearly departed.
If you want to be in the position to help ease the suffering of a parent and terminally ill family member, the time to act is now. If you want your wishes respected at the end of your run, commit those desires to notarized papers.
United Hospice relies on the services of volunteers. In fact, Hospices must demonstrate each year cost savings realized through the utilization of volunteer services.
Volunteers who wish to work with patients and families will go through a comprehensive training program. They are also happy to have volunteers work in their office, assist fundraising department, offer personal care (manicures, pedicures, haircuts, shaves, etc) services for patients, tend gardens, and participate in speakers’ bureau. There are no limits to the ways in which volunteers can help.
If you have an interest in volunteering, please contact Marie Woodsmith at (845) 634-4974.
Make sure that older members of your family have a health care proxy, power of attorney, and living will in place. UH provides a free service to help families create and store their advanced directive online at assuringyourwishes.org. However, everyone 18 years of age and older–but particularly seniors–should be aware of the legal and medical documents that express your wishes in the event of your incapacitation.
No matter how prepared you are, the loss of a loved one is devastating. Being unprepared can expose the patient to unnecessary suffering and leave a family with a feeling of irreparable regret.
Three years and one month apart from each other, my father and his sister passed away in their beds, as they had wished. When the dreaded loss of a parent comes with such tranquility and dignity, the lingering impression is of your loved one slipping gently into the eternal slumber.
For those transcendent memories, we thank United Hospice.
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Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” United Hospice” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com