While some people don’t want to think about standing by someone until the end of their life and still standing by the person’s family for months after the death, the people who work and volunteer in the hospice field don’t give it another thought.
With November comes a time to celebrate and honor the angels standing by people and their families through the tough times of being terminally ill. Through the Memorial Health System, the Home Health & Hospice of Dickinson County team and volunteers take care of families from Abilene to Herington and in-between.
“The Cliff Notes is hospice is palliative, not curative, meaning that we are there to help control any symptoms, pain management, we admit the whole family, not just the patient and we’re there for the bereavement part, which is up to a year after we lose the patient,” Home Health & Hospice of Dickinson County Director Carol Whitehair said.
“It is really a team approach, it is more than just your hospice nurse, you’ve got your volunteers, you’ve got your chaplain, you’ve got your medical director and your social workers — a team of people that are with you at the end of life,” Home Health & Hospice of Dickinson County Clinical Manager Danielle Gantner said.
For someone to choose hospice, they have to fit four qualifications starting with the patient’s illness means they will not be alive in six months.
“You have to not be surprised if the disease process they have that they won’t be here in six months, doesn’t mean they have to be gone in six months, but you wouldn’t be surprised if they were,” Whitehair said. “If they’re still here in six months and they’re still showing decline. We keep them in hospice, we don’t kick them off.”
The next two qualifications include a doctor’s order and the patient choosing to stop treatment and testing.
“The patient has to be ready to say, you know, I’m not seeking any further treatment,” Whitehair said. “I don’t want P.E.T scans, C.T. scans, these kinds of things. I know that this can’t be fixed unless something miraculous happens and I’m ready just to treat the symptoms.”
Lastly, the patient will need a caregiver due to the hospice nurses and volunteers can’t be at the household 24/7. However, many hospice workers and volunteers try their best to be available to patients in need.
“We send people out to wherever they call home,” Whitehair said. “Home could be a nursing home, assisted living, apartment or a house.”
There is a lot of time spent driving between locations, as they offer both home health and hospice and have staff in Herington as well.
“We average between 10 and 11,000 miles per month on our cars,” Whitehair added.
For those experiencing hospice or may in the future, Whitehair and Gantner wanted to share some reminders on the experience.
“A lot of times people think in hospice ‘I’m going to be gone in a month’ that’s what they think,” Gantner said. “Actually, there are studies that say that people who are on hospice have better quality of life, which ends up being that they possibly live longer … It’s really getting the support that you need when you need it.”
“Like Danielle said, there’s a white paper out there that says people that are admitted to hospice will actually live longer than if they weren’t admitted to hospice and didn’t have somebody overseeing their care,” Whitehair added. “We don’t routinely do chemotherapy or radiation or any of those proactive curative type things and people feel better, because they’re not going through procedure after procedure after procedure. We’re just treating the symptoms to make them feel better, for what time they have left.”
Home Health & Hospice of Dickinson County Volunteer Coordinator Adrianne Russell-Pestinger utilizes her time to assist patients through finding volunteers and sending out information packets to families. Russell-Pestinger can find it difficult to find volunteers due to lack of understanding of the hospice volunteers’ duties.
“People feel like they’re going to have to do some of the hands-on care, like helping them go to the bathroom or that kind of thing, but there’s none of that,” Russell-Pestinger said. “They don’t do any kind of medical stuff, so they’ll just really sit and talk with the patient. They can play music, read to them, sometimes they just sit quietly with the patient if they’re non-responsive, but it’s just nice to have someone there. It is nice to have that comforting presence.”
Other jobs that volunteers can participate in and help include administrative work and assisting with communication.
“They can help with the newsletter, whether that’s coming up with articles or taking photos,” Russell-Pestinger said. “There’s so many different things that they can help with … It’s very hard to get new people to come on and younger people. Some younger people would be great, because they have a lot to offer to the older people.”
To those wanting to volunteer, people can contact the Home Health & Hospice office at 785-263-6630.
Hospice Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator Lindsey Brummer, also Community Bible Church Pastor, assists with another type of healing during the hospice process.
Before Brummer meets with the patients, the in-take nurse will ask them if they want council with the chaplain. Due to each person being unique, Brummer finds the best way to help each one from contacting them to helping out families.
“Each situation is unique, obviously, so I kind of gear it toward whatever the situation is and sometimes, it’s ministering more to the family than just the individual who’s on hospice, depending on the situation,” Brummer said.
For those assisting a family member, friend or another person through the process of dying, he wanted to share some advice and words from the Bible.
“Sometimes we think well, we have to have the right words to say and say just the right thing to help the situation,” Brummer said. “A lot of times we don’t know just the right words, because every situation is so unique, but just to be there with the family and provide that support and kindness is worth a lot.”
“Psalm 23 is obviously a very well known passage, it starts out with ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’ and I always like to remind folks that God is our good shepherd,” Brummer added. “Jesus is our good shepherd and he is there for us, if we look to him and faith, he’s there for us.”
Why did you choose this path?
Whitehair, Gantner, Russell-Pastinger and Brummer shared what pushed them to stand by people and their families at the end of their life.
“We make a difference,” Whitehair said. “We truly make a difference in our community. These people get to stay home, they get to have family around them, we keep them comfortable to the best of our ability… They’re not just people, their neighbors, aunts, uncles, parents, we’ve hospice both my parents and my husband’s parents. That’s special to be able to give that back to people that you’ve known your whole life.”
“I would say the overall appreciation that at the beginning it seems like total chaos, but everything always falls into place,” Gantner said. “Getting to that very end with them and them being at ease and being okay with their mom dying or whoever. I think it’s really their appreciation and being able to help them through probably the worst time of their life or one of the worst times of their lives.”
“I think that I was just led in this direction,” Russell-Pastinger said. “I had worked for the company, I previously worked for about four years and was let go before Covid then Covid came along…I had a lot of interviews and it just this is the one that I was offered but it checked all the boxes of things that I have always wanted to do.”
“The pastor who was serving in that role (Chaplin) had moved out of town to another location,” Brummer said. “So the staff approached and asked me if I would be interested in serving as the chaplain and of course I knew all of the people and they were wonderful folks. I just like the opportunity to be able to meet with new families and minister to people. It’s really been a great ministry.”