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Hospice coordinator hopes to tear down barriers

January 22, 2001

Hospice coordinator hopes to tear down barriers



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Dawn JohnsDawn Johns hopes to make a difference in the community by spreading the word about Hospice of Washington County.

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The new community liaison coordinator for Hagerstown-based Hospice said she will serve as an advocate for Hospice and for the organization's patients and their families.

Johns said she will strive to "take down the barriers" that prevent terminally ill Washington County residents from living the remainder of their lives in the comfort of professional Hospice care. She plans to do this by educating the public and health care professionals about the agency's services and by acting as a liaison between attending physicians and the Hospice team.

"I think there are so many myths that surround Hospice," said Johns, 40. "People say 'no' because they don't know."

Hospice of Washington County is a nonprofit organization made up of health care professionals, support staff, spiritual care workers and volunteers who provide comfort and support to terminally ill patients and their loved ones.

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"If people don't know about Hospice, they're not going to receive the benefits," Johns said.

Her position was created in January to help further Hospice's mission, said Susan Taylor, the agency's executive director.

Johns was hired to help increase the number of terminally ill county residents and their families who are served by Hospice by educating and raising awareness about the organization and developing strong relationships with such patient referral bases as physicians and nursing care and assisted living centers, Taylor said.

Last year, Hospice served an average of 33 patients per day, up 25 percent from 1999. Based on the population of Washington County, Hospice should be providing services to between 60 and 80 patients per day, Taylor said.

The agency is well-equipped to provide these services, she said.

Hospice of Washington County operates on a state Certificate of Need, and the agency met the high health care standards set by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to gain JCAHO accreditation in February 2000, Taylor said.

It's important for people to understand and be able to access Hospice services so patients will have a "continuum of care," Johns said.

After she completes Hospice's volunteer training session in February, Johns plans to begin public speaking engagements and talk about Hospice to area physicians and administrators at county nursing care and assisted living centers.

She'll explain the federal Benefits Improvement and Protection Act of 2000, which gives the doctors of terminally ill patients more freedom in deciding when to refer patients to Hospice.

Johns will work to expand Hospice's bereavement services to the Hancock area and make people aware that the organization also provides these services to the grieving families of nonenrolled patients, she said.

Johns will stress the organization's unique team approach to care, she said.

After a patient is referred, a registered nurse on Hospice's staff visits the patient and his or her family to discuss their needs. The nurse then works with Hospice's clinical coordinator to devise a care plan tailored to these needs. The nurse manager acts as a liaison between the attending physician and the patient.

Hospice volunteers dedicate at least four hours a week to help in the office or assist with patient care. Patient care volunteers undertake tasks ranging from relieving the patient's primary caregiver to running errands for the patient, Johns said.

She said her clinical background makes her a good fit for her new post.

Johns, of Greencastle, Pa., spent more than 13 years as a radiation therapist at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center. In addition to giving radiation treatments to cancer patients, Johns chaired the National Cancer Survivors Picnic and worked on various outreach projects.

"It isn't foreign to me what our patients are going through, what their families are going through and what our nurses are experiencing," she said.

As Hospice's community liaison coordinator, "I'll still be able to help people - just in a different way," Johns said.

For information about Hospice services or the volunteer training session that starts Feb. 6, call 301-791-6360.

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