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Scotland's Hospice officials say their work is 'a calling'

December 12, 2004|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SCOTLAND, PA.

Whenever someone says, "He or she is in hospice," it usually means someone is dying.

Hospice is neither a "what" nor a "where." It's a philosophy that recognizes that death is natural. More than a physical place, it's a place of mind and heart.

That people die every day in hospice is a given. It's how they die that makes hospice what it is.

"It's a calling. We feel we've been chosen to do what we do," said Janet Dell, director of Hospice of the Good Shepherd, a nonprofit, faith-based group on Luther Drive in Scotland. The agency is an arm of Lutheran Home Care Services Inc. at the same address.

The agency has a paid staff of nurses, home health aides, social workers and counselors, plus dozens of volunteers.

Founded in 1989, Hospice of the Good Shepherd cares for more than 500 terminally ill patients each year in Franklin, Fulton and Adams counties. It has from 70 to 80 patients in its care at any given time in the three counties.

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Hospice offers comfort care after physicians deem further medical care futile and when there are no more options. It usually is provided in the patient's home around family members.

"We work with the patient's doctor and teach families how to take care of a dying patient with their physical needs," said Dell, a registered nurse who spent years in home hospice care before becoming director of the Scotland agency. "They need to be fed, have diapers and beds changed, things that have to be learned. Families learn to do things they never thought they would do."

Hospice sometimes is provided in nursing homes, Dell said.

"Nursing homes don't necessarily know how to take care of a dying person," she said. "Hospice is a specialty. Hospice nurses pass exams to become certified."

Hospice staff members and volunteers help patients with medications, pain control, emotional or financial problems and housekeeping.

"Most people in hospice are not prepared to die," Dell said. "They put things off to the last minute, often through denial. Hospice gives them time to get their affairs in order."

People near death often are confused.

"They may know they're dying, but they want to know where they're going, what will happen to them," Dell said. "Some are angry at God because they're dying. They often get restless."

Staff members counsel families through the ordeal of watching a loved one die, she said.

An average stay for a hospice patient is one month. About half die within a week, Dell said.

At one time, most hospice patients died of cancer, said Dell. Today, cancer patients make up about half of the total. The rest die from other diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, she said.

Hospice nurses pronounce patients dead and often help the families with funeral arrangements. Staff members and volunteers often go to services with the family, she said.

Hospice care is free for patients.

Only about 30 of Hospice of the Good Shepherd's nearly 80 volunteers ever see a patient. Others are involved in office duties, delivery, supplies and fund-raisers.

The agency is taking applications for volunteers for a recruitment program that takes place at the end of March. For information, call Kathy Dietsch at 1-800-338-4295.

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