Hospice care extends to entire family

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

When Loretta Fogerson decided it was time to get hospice help for her ailing mother, her main focus was on her mother’s care.

She was surprised to discover the hospice staff cared for her and her family as much as her mother.

“The week that my mom died, I stayed at the nursing home with her. They brought me a huge basket full of things we could have right there so we wouldn’t have to go out and get them,” Fogerson said.

She said the hospice staff often took care of things she didn’t even think of.

“If you’re going to take care of a patient in hospice, you have to take care of the family too,” Fogerson said.

Fogerson’s mother, Evelyn Fletcher, died Sept. 28.

In the month since her mother died, the hospice staff has sent her cards and called to check up on her.

“They don’t stop caring after the patient is gone,” she said.

Hospice of the Sandias Volunteer Coordinator Katrina Bryant said many misconceptions exist about hospice, including that care is solely for the patient and care ends when the patient dies.

“We address the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the patient and the family,” Bryant said. “At that point in a person’s life, it’s very pertinent that the family is involved.”

Hospice of the Sandias’ staff includes a chaplain, social workers, nurses, nurses’ aids and volunteers.

“We look at it as being invited into this person’s life and home. We approach it with the gentleness it deserves,” Bryant said. “We’re there the whole way to take care of the details. We support the family so the family can support the patient.”

Fogerson said the hospice staff didn’t come in and take charge.

“They were in the shadows. They were the supporting people. Sometimes they’d just come in and didn’t say anything. They’d walk down the hall and just touch me to let me know they were there,” Fogerson said. “That was more important than a lot of words.”

VistaCare Community Education Representative Jackie Lara said hospice is a dynamic practice.

“We know it’s not just about physical symptoms,” Lara said. “There is a huge level of connection between the patient, their family and the nurses. If nurses do it, they are meant to do it. Hospice isn’t for all nurses.”

Patient Care Manager with VistaCare Jennifer Evans said her staff sheds their share of tears when a patient dies.

“The families accept them as one of their own and they feel like a part of it,” Evans said. “Some patients, when they pass, they take a part of you. When a patient is going through something rough, something hard, and they make a joke, that’s what makes it worth it.”

Evans said VistaCare’s staff prepares the family for what to expect up to when the patient dies and afterwards.

“Usually when a patient is in hospice care, someone in the family stays with them 24 hours, seven days a week,” Evans said. “When they pass, it can be so overwhelming to have that hole in their life.”

Evans said the company checks up on family members for over a year after a patients dies.

Bryant said federal mandates require that 5 percent of Hospice of the Sandias’ care is provided by volunteers.

“Volunteers are vital to our organization,” Bryant said. “Sometimes patients are able to open up to a volunteer more than to a doctor. Sometimes our patients don’t have any family. We become their family. We want them to know that someone cares and will remember them.”

Hospice of the Sandias is seeking hosting a serve-a-thon to coincide with national hospice month.

Bryant said because money is tight everywhere, the hospice is looking for donations of time.