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Sometimes it’s the conversation starter that is the hard part.
Talking about death is not a comfortable subject for most, but when it comes to hospice care registered nurses Erika Busby and Angel Yanez say it can be one of the most important conversations a family can have.
The two women, along with local nurse Sandra Nolker of Regional Hospice based in Liberty, visited the Richmond Kiwanis Club on Monday to explain how to get that conversation started.
The nurses handed out a booklet published by Attorney General Chris Koster’s office that outlines what a person should do concerning near end-of-life decisions such as living wills, power of attorney and choosing a hospice organization.
Hospice care is a way for people to receive medical care at home instead of spending time in the hospital. Hospice also helps caregivers deal with and plan for the person’s eventual death.
Busby told the Kiwanians that hospice focuses on relieving the person’s symptoms rather than trying to cure them. She said hospice care also provides emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.
“Everything (medical care) is aggressive except for one thing – hospice,” Busby said.
The disease cannot be fixed, but we can fix everything the disease creates.”
In addition to having nurses on staff, the locally-owned organization also employs social workers and chaplains. Regional Hospice has an office in Gallatin in addition to Liberty. For patients in Ray County, Nolker is available.
Busby said hospice is becoming more accessible to patients. She said Medicare A covers hospice 100 percent.
“People don’t know it because it’s like a best-kept little secret,” Busby said.
According to the booklet a recent survey of Americans said they would prefer to be cared for and die at home, but only 30 percent of Missourians actually do.
Busby said hospice care doesn’t end with the death of a friend or family member. She said some days are harder than others and can be difficult for a caregiver.
“You see us in the best of times and you see us in the worst of times,” Busby said. “We’re able to continue forward with that relationship.”
Hospice care also includes making the patients’ wishes come true according to the nurses. Yanez said one patient just wanted to camp in the woods. She said sometimes what may seem like a mundane request can be a challenge when considering the medical accommodations that will have to be considered.
“It sounds real simple until you think about what goes into it,” Yanez said.
Yanez said hospice care could extend to wherever a patient calls home, including a nursing home. Yanez said a hospice caregiver played some music for an Alzheimer’s disease patient that had not spoken in days. She said the woman began tapping her feet and singing along. One family member said she used to be in a band. The daughter of the patient had no idea her mother had been in a band. Yanez said the patient began telling stories from her childhood where she played drums in a band.
“The far away memories sometimes are the ones that seem so close,” Yanez said.
Yanez said sometimes staff of a nursing care facility becomes attached to a patient and hospice care can stay with that person while the employee does their job.
Busby said hospice care is available because people have choices. She said there are over 60 hospice organizations in the Kansas City area. She provided Kiwanians a list of questions that all organizations should be able to answer such as after hours and 24-hour care service and how physician’s visits play into the care. Busby said Regional Hospice could take care of most of the paperwork associated with Medicare as well.
To obtain a booklet, go to www.ago.mo.gov. For more information about Regional Hospice go to www.regionalhospice.com.
Photo: Erika Busby of Regional Hospice answers a question Monday afternoon at the Kiwanis Club meeting at the 19th Hole. (Submitted photo by Jerry McCarter)