“Hospice care focuses on supporting patients and their loved ones so they can make the most of the time they have together,” said Jill Wilke, director of Lake Regional Palliative Care, Home Health & Hospice. “Accepting hospice is not giving up on life — it is taking a stand for life, here and now.”
If families see hospice as admitting defeat, they might not consider it until their loved one has uncontrolled symptoms or is near death. Although hospice will provide care at these times, patients and families benefit more when hospice services begin earlier, Wilke said.
One program that can help families know when to consider hospice is Lake Regional’s Chronic Care Management program. This program connects patients who have two or more ongoing medical problems with a Lake Regional nurse case manager. The ongoing medical problems can range widely. For example, arthritis, COPD, cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure each qualify.
“Depending on the severity of their conditions, patients may be in fairly good health and still find the case manager’s support helpful,” Wilke said. “That’s a strength of this program — it offers participants personalized care and support.”
To participate, patients must have a Lake Regional primary care provider and be enrolled in Medicare.
Participants in Chronic Care Management benefit from having a case manager who works with them and their various health care providers to improve communication and keep everyone on the same page. The case manager also calls the patient at least once a month to see how they are doing, and the patient can call their case manager as often as needed with questions. Conversations can be about symptoms, treatments, appointments, tests and other concerns.
The case manager also provides palliative care. Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life by helping patients manage pain, nausea, weakness, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
At Lake Regional, patients who have enrolled in Chronic Care Management and who develop a life-limiting illness tend to spend more time in hospice than those without Chronic Care Management.
“What this tells us is that the Chronic Care Management nurses are building trusting relationships, helping patients identify their health care goals, and addressing end-of-life concerns earlier in their care so that when the time comes, the patient is more comfortable talking about hospice,” Wilke said.
Studies show that people have improved quality of life and actually live longer in hospice care. This is because many symptoms, such as pain, are better controlled. Also, problems that might have led to an emergency room visit or hospitalization can be managed at home with support from the experienced hospice team.
Lake Regional operates both home health and hospice programs. Staff members are cross-trained in both areas, so if a patient moves from home health to hospice, Lake Regional can continue their care with the same caregivers they have come to know and trust.