Photo by Ingrid Roemischer
Carol Finke, Hospice Care Coordinator for the High Peaks Hospice Warren County office, signing in CEU participants at a High Peaks Hospice bereavement workshop.
Hospice care isn’t about giving up, it’s about making a decision—a decision that can define how the final days of a person’s life will be lived.
“The misconception is that hospice care is about dying or about giving up, and it’s not,” said Ingrid Roemischer, Development and Outreach Coordinator of High Peaks Hospice. “The patient is who we take care of. It’s still their life, it’s still their choice.”
When a doctor gives someone six months or less to live, they often have the option of staying in a hospital and receiving treatment. Hospice caregivers, like those who work and volunteer for High Peaks Hospice, can offer the patient, and the patient’s family, other options.
“A lot of people want to be home their last days, and we help them do that,” Roemischer said, adding: “It’s care, it’s not a cure.”
What Roemischer means is that the purpose of hospice is to offer support and to make a person’s last days as comfortable as possible.
High Peaks Hospice staff members become as involved as the family, and the patient, would like them to be, and will come to a person’s home, nursing home or hospital.
Staff can visit daily, or weekly, depending on a patient’s wishes, and can perform tasks that range from simple conversation to helping take care of the patient.
It’s what Roemischer refers to as the circle of care. In the center is the patient, and then the primary caregiver and the patient’s family. Around that is hospice, and then the doctor.
The bulls-eye is always the patient, the focal point of all factions of hospice care, and everyone with a diagnosis of six months or less to live is eligible.
“We do not turn people away based on age, gender, race, religion, or ability to pay,” Roemischer said.
It’s true that hospice focuses on the needs of the patient, but they are also there for the needs of the patient’s family.
“End of life can be very stressful for everyone involved,” Roemischer said. “Sometimes, the family just needs to get away for a few hours.”
High Peaks Hospice has served more than 5,600 patients and their families in Franklin, Essex and Warren counties since it was founded in 1986.
Even though hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most health management organizations and private insurance companies, some expenses, like bereavement and mileage reimbursement, are largely funded by donations and community support.
High Peaks Hospice also relies heavily upon volunteers like Frank Montbriand, who discovered hospice about five years ago.
Montbriand took care of his mother for two-and-a-half years in Hague with his sister and her husband.
After his family contacted High Peaks Hospice to assist in taking care of his mother toward the end of her life, he immediately began to see the value in hospice care.
“If you go through that kind of experience you realize how physically, mentally and spiritually exhausting it can be,” Montbriand said.
Montbriand’s mother died of old age in Feb. 2006, the day after her 95th birthday. He became a hospice volunteer six months later and has now worked with about 30 patients.
The work has helped Montbriand understand that death is a natural part of life, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad thing.
“A lot of people, when they get to the point where they can’t interact well with people, when they can’t remember situations and when they can’t take care of themselves, they’re ready to go,” Montbriand said. “I think as a society we need to honor that.”
Part of honoring that is accepting that, as people’s bodies begin to shut down, giving them comfort is paramount to improving their quality of life during their final days.
“We have this human desire to feed and nurture people when they are sick, but sometimes the body just doesn’t want food anymore,” Montbriand said. ““The quality of life issue becomes dominant. What I want for them is a peaceful death and as much family support as possible.”
The nature of Montbriand’s volunteerism means he often gets to know people who are close to death, and there are emotions involved in that which can be difficult to cope with.
Understanding the process of death helps him get through it, as does allowing for time to grieve.
“You don’t really know about dying until you get there,” Montbriand said. “We’re here to go through the mourning process, too.”
Jane Turlouw is also a volunteer for High Peaks Hospice, but she specializes in bereavement—helping family and friends of the deceased go through the mourning process.
After taking a post graduate class called children and death, Turlouw found she was interested in the topic and went back to school to get a graduate degree in counseling.
She has been a part of hospice care ever since.
For many grieving is a personal process, one that Turlouw approaches by only being as involved as the people need her to be. A part of that is letting them know that the pain they’re feeling is normal.
“You help people grieve by listening to their story—letting them vent, letting them talk, letting them relive the experience time and time again,” Turlouw said. “It’s helping them normalize their new life, their life without this partner.”
Turlouw worked in hospice in New Jersey for 20 years, and volunteered for High Peaks Hospice after moving to the area.
She said she loves the work, and that the people she’s helping have had a profound impact on her life.
“I feel that the people I came to know have given me more than I’ve given them,” Turlouw said.
For information on hospice care, volunteering or to make a donation, visit www.highpeakshospice.com.