Hospice house staff see dying is a normal part of living
For a man who had lived on the streets most of his life, his last few weeks of life at Hospice of Spokane's hospice house were his best days, eating the best food he had ever eaten and drinking all the milk he wanted.
Hospice of Spokane's two hospice houses seek to provide quality care, comfort and food for patients of any means to make their last hours, days, weeks and months there meaningful, quality times, said Alicia Reid, director of hospice houses and admissions, Matt Kinder, director of social services, and Gina Drummond, CEO.
Both hospice houses have 12 private rooms.
The first opened in November 2007 at 367 E. 7th Ave. The second opened in North Spokane at 102 W. Rhoades in April 2014.
"Families and patients can be in a setting where the patient's care needs are met, so the family can focus on being family," said Gina, who moved to Spokane 14 years ago to be CEO and to start the first hospice house.
Gina had previously worked 10 years with Peace Hospice of Montana in Great Falls and had overseen building a hospice house there. Hospice of Spokane was then "dreaming" of building a hospice house.
Most of the 2,000 people Hospice of Spokane serves in a year traverse the end-of-life journey in their own homes, assisted living facilities, skilled care facilities or hospitals. Gina said Hospice of Spokane works closely with local hospitals and other facilities to serve patients in all environments.
However, there also was and is demand for the hospice houses.
"Each day in the hospice houses, we hope the dying person has the best day possible, realizing it could be their last. It's important that they can make every moment count," said Gina.
"When patients come to a hospice house, we often see relief on the faces of family members who have provided care," said Matt. "They realize they are in a safe, peaceful environment where caring, competent staff are there to serve and care for their loved one."
Alicia, Gina and Matt say hospice houses are sacred spaces.
"There's a peaceful calm when entering the building, not the level of activity in the hospital or the stress at home," said Alicia.
Matt said the peaceful, homelike environment assures that the patients' quality of life is as good as it can be for the time they have left. Each patient has his/her own room with bathroom, a microwave and sink. The hospice houses allow pets to visit. Chairs pull out into beds so some family can stay.
There's always soup, coffee, tea and snacks available for family. Patients have full meals.
"Many say living is easy but death is hard. We walk with people through the difficulty that can go with dying," Alicia said.
Gina said education is part of that, so people do not fear.
"If people are educated, they are empowered, and their fear falls away," she said.
"We normalize dying, seeing it as a natural part of life," said Matt.
"We support people whatever their spiritual journeys and whatever they believe," Gina added.
"I value our agency's focus on what gives people meaning, what is valued and what is most important to the patients and families," said Matt. "Spirituality and/or religion is a part of life for so many. We realize we are part of a story that is bigger than ourselves."
In 1977, a small group of committed volunteers started Hospice of Spokane to make dying people's last experiences positive.
Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, started a hospice in 1967 in England. Just 10 years later Spokane's opened—the 12th hospice in the U.S., said Matt.
Alicia, who grew up in Spokane, entered nursing as a second career, and 10 months after starting as a hospital nurse, she found her niche with hospice 12 years ago. Her first career was in international business with a telecom equipment business from 1996 to 2002.
She earned a bachelor's in business in 1991 at Seattle University, and finished studies in nursing in 2005 at Spokane Community College because nurses were needed.
"I wanted to spend time with people," she said of her shift to hospice work. "I have no fear of dying or death, because I have cared for elderly people—but hospice work is with all ages. It's about helping people through their final journeys."
Alicia oversees both houses, the staff, a clinical coordinator and admissions. Staff includes six registered nurses and six nurses' aids at each house.
Staff provide education, support, care giving and compassion.
"We educate families on the care we provide, medications, the process they go through, the progress of the disease and what to report to us," Alicia said.
In most cases, Gina said, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance cover hospice care, but a few patients who do not require skilled acute care may be charged room and board at the hospice houses.
The average stay is eight-and-a-half days. Some stays are just hours and some are months.
"People need to continue to qualify by having a prognosis that they will live six months or less, and seeking just palliative—or comfort—care," Gina said. "A few stabilize, are discharged and may come back later.
Matt, who grew up in Spokane and has been with Hospice of Spokane 17 years, earned a master of social work degree in 2001 at Walla Walla University. In 1993, he earned an associate's degree at Spokane Community College and in 1995 a bachelor's from Whitworth studying sociology and psychology.
While at Whitworth, he worked a year at the Arc of Spokane with people with intellectual and physical disabilities. He then worked about five years in Seattle at a mental health facility with people with severe and persistent mental illness.
He started with Hospice of Spokane in 2001 as a social work case manager, serving patients and families in their homes.
He has been director of social services for 10 years, overseeing 20 social workers, four employed chaplains, about 20 volunteer chaplains, five bereavement counselors and other volunteers.
Gina, who grew up in Miles City, Mont., earned a bachelor's degree in 1988 and then a master's in nursing in 1999 at Montana State University. She was a nurse for several years in oncology and psychiatry before she realized she wanted to work in hospice, including working two years in surgical oncology at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle before starting at Peace Hospice of Montana.
"Part of my spirituality is through encouraging people and through kindness. I want to help people find meaning, look at what their lives meant and how they made a difference," Gina said.
Matt values compassion, empathy, tenderness, service and the non-judgmental presence he experiences with Hospice of Spokane.
Matt added: "We meet people where they are. Our job is to love and serve people, whoever they are and wherever they come from.
"We encourage people to be on good terms with all people, to live as if today were their last day, to do the best they can and treat people with kindness," he said.
Matt said the work has opened him up to be more comfortable with mystery and not knowing.
"I have moved from an either/or view to more of a both/and view," he said, "where everything belongs. This includes tears, memories, anger, laughter, sadness, joy and hope. They are all part of the process."
Alicia sees that as families gather, they cry, tell stories and laugh.
She recommends the advice of singer Tim McGraw in his 2004 album, "Live Like You Are Dying," a reminder that no one knows when their time will come. So we need to do all we can to live fully now."
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2018