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Nichols: Hospice eases trip on life’s final journey

POSTED: March 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

In the Middle Ages, the words "hospice," "hospital" and "hostel" often were given the same meaning. As a person neared the end of a journey, food and shelter were provided to the tired traveler, some of whom were sick and needed care in their last days.

Thus, these early rest stations became the forerunner of our hospitals today, and also of the hospice program itself with a philosophy of caring for the whole person in body, soul, and mind.

In the late 1800s, Our Lady’s Hospice was established in Dublin, Ireland, by Sister May Aikenhead of the Sisters of Charity. She was a friend of Florence Nightingale.

Soon thereafter, in 1900, St Joseph’s Hospice was established in London. More recently, in 1960 in a suburb of London, the first modern hospice was established, named St. Christopher’s Hospice. Its founder was Dame Cicely Saunders, and it became the model for the modern hospice movement that has spread to many parts of the world. It provided a place where a person with a terminal illness could go to for care while life played itself out.

The idea spread to Canada. In 1975 in Montreal, Dr. Balfour Mount established the Palliative Care service in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Palliative care was his term to describe care for terminally ill persons and their families.

Shortly before that time, in 1963, Saunders from St. Christopher’s Hospice in London visited Yale University and met with medical and nursing students and explained to them what her organization was doing in England to help care for terminally ill persons.

Saunders had such a major impact with her presentations at Yale that the dean of the Yale School of Nursing resigned her position and became the founder of the Connecticut Hospice, which was patterned on St. Christopher’s Hospice in London.

In 1974, the Connecticut Hospice began sending nurses and volunteers to care for terminally ill patients in their homes, and in 1979 it opened a 44-bed inpatient facility and thus became the first hospice in the United States. It provided a combination of home care with inpatient care at a facility.

Seven years later in 1986, the Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center was established here in Gainesville, serving the 13 counties in our region of Northeast Georgia.

In 1983, Medicare created the Hospice Benefit program to provide benefits to qualified citizens of our nation. That program pays for the costs of Hospice care. Gainesville has several organizations that offer hospice care for the terminally ill. Some of these are for profit, some are nonprofit.

The Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center is nonprofit and has a staff of professionals and volunteers, all trained in the philosophy that each person has a right to live and die in a friendly environment either at home or other facility.

The program becomes available after the patient’s physician makes a diagnosis that the person has six months or less to live. If the person or family decides to explore the possibility of utilizing Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center for hospice care, they may call 770-533-8888 for application details.

A team of professionals and volunteers then addresses the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and family. That team is led by hospice director Teresa Warren and medical director Dr. Frank Lake III.

Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center has primary nurses who visit each patient at least once a week and staff nurses who are on call when needed, plus weekend and night nurses to respond to urgent family needs during those hours. Also on staff are social workers for bereavement and other counseling, hospice aides and a chaplain.

The professionals on staff provide training to the volunteers who help by regularly visiting the patient, or by providing services directed by the staff. The director of the volunteer program is Carol Jewell. Social services coordinator is Rhonda Rogers.

These people work with the patient’s own physician, and seek to provide help and counsel to the family so that they can accept the dying process as a natural part of life. Special emphasis is on pain and symptom control during those last months of the patient.

I am a volunteer part-time librarian. We have an extensive library of books and other materials about dying with dignity. One shelf in our library deals with counseling children who suffer loss of a close friend or adult.

For more information about Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, call the office at 770-533-8888 or speak with your personal physician.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesville times.com.



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