Hospice gives control, choices to elderly, terminally ill
By Anita McSorley
Special to The Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Out of all the heart-rending stories to come out of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, perhaps the ones that will resonate longest with seniors in this country will be the nursing home stories.
photo courtesy of The Leaven
Catholic Community Hospice nurse Julie Horton, a parishioner of St. Margaret Parish in Lee's Summit, visits with one of her patients, Jane Hayes, a parishioner of Visitation Parish in Kansas City, Mo.
Whether it be those left behind at St. Rita's in Louisiana, or those in the ill-fated bus being evacuated from Houston, it is practically impossible for any ill or elderly American - no matter how affluent - to watch coverage of those stories without thinking for an instant, "That might have been me."
But most seniors didn't need a disaster like Katrina or Rita to underline the point. They've learned from their own experience that rich or poor, black or white, the elderly are vulnerable in a way that younger people are not.
The terminally ill, in particular, are subject to the dictates of others - of their families, of their doctors, of intrusive technology, and, of course, of insurance companies.
And so, at the very moment they are trying to prepare themselves for death, they have less and less control of their life.
"Catholic Community Hospice is working to give choices back to people suffering terminal illnesses," said Dr. Mike Jurkovich, director of health services.
"There is practically no reason that people facing life-limiting illnesses should have to spend the time remaining to them confined to a hospital," he said, "or hooked up to technology that they don't want and that can't cure them."
˙"Unfortunately, too few people realize that there is a real alternative to hospitalization - hospice care -˙and that there is Catholic-sponsored hospice right here in the Kansas City region.
"That's why Catholic Community Hospice - with the assistance of Archbishop Joseph Naumann - is launching an area-wide awareness campaign. People deserve to know that they have much more control in the way they live the ends of their lives than perhaps they realize - and that includes being cared for by people who earnestly regard the practice of their faith."
Director of Catholic Charities on the Kansas side, Mark Henke, said the spirit of the Catholic faith is captured in Catholic Community Hospice.
For example, he said, "Catholic Community Hospice is committed to maintaining a very low patient-to-nurse ratio to ensure quality care - and to provide healthcare professionals that extra time essential to each patient and family."
All Catholic Community Hospice professionals are required to be certified in pain management and palliative care, compared to 20 percent in other hospice providers, said Henke.
"If your mission is to care for those who are dying, what could be more important than having that added training and expertise?" he said.
Finally, Henke noted that Catholic Community Hospice is enriched by the extraordinary generosity of community volunteers, many of whom learned about hospice when one of their loved ones received hospice care.
"You know Catholic Community Hospice is special," said Henke, "when families are so impressed with the care that they come and ask you later what they can do to help others."
The first thing to know about hospice, said Jurkovich, is that hospice brings the care to you. Hospice teams are made up not only of doctors and nurses, but also chaplains, counselors and others. They work with the patients and caregivers to come up with individualized plans of care. That care is then delivered to the patient in at home - whether that is a private residence, or a long-term care facility such as a nursing home.
"Initially some people assume it's going to be cost-prohibitive," said Jurkovich, "because it seems so much more attractive than the hospital alternative. But then when they look into it they learn that actually, hospice is such a cost-effective way of caring for those with life-limiting illnesses, and that almost all of the cost is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance."
Catholic Community Hospice cares for about 400 patients annually, and serves Wyandotte, Johnson and Leavenworth counties in Kansas, and Clay, Cass, Platte and Jackson counties in Missouri.
It's been in business for over 10 years, which is unusual in this new industry.
But Catholic Community Hospice is based on a very old Catholic teaching, said Archbishop Joseph Naumann, one, he believes that the modern medical community sometimes has trouble understanding.
"In the medical model, even the medical people aren't comfortable about talking about death," he said. "There are people in the medical field to whom death is a failure. They don't have the same faith perspective that we do."
"And though we all have certain fears of leaving what we know behind," he said, "our faith tells us that there is a much richer life that awaits us."
"I think one of the fears people have today," Archbishop Naumann said, "is of burdensome medical technology. Our Catholic faith says that we do not have to employ extraordinary means to sustain life.
"In hospice I think there's that freedom to acknowledge that - barring some kind of miracle - death is imminent. It gives the person the chance to [prepare for death].
And that doesn't just mean receiving the sacraments, although Catholic Community Hospice can certainly arrange that, he said.
If there's anything they need to say, said the archbishop, or family members they want to reconcile with, hospice staff will make sure there's an opportunity to for that to happen.
"I think it's important for our people to know that there are resources out there to help them be faithful to the principles of our Catholic moral teaching, and yet receive all the comfort and support and best medical assistance possible," Archbishop Naumann said.
Often, he said, all of those things can be made available to patients in the comfort of their own homes through hospice.
It's never been easier to learn about hospice in general, or Catholic hospice in particular, than right now. Catholic Community Hospice has launched an awareness campaign and has made the following available to the public:
New literature, to be found in the backs of churches, inserted into many bulletins, and available upon request at parish offices or by calling 913-621-5090.
A new Web site, answering frequently asked questions about hospice, at www.catholiccommunityhospice.com.
A new speakers' bureau of hospice representatives available to present a short PowerPoint presentation on hospice to church or civic groups and to answer questions afterwards. To schedule, call 913-621-5090.