Green River Star -

By Lillian Palmer
Staff Writer 

Hospice: helping lives reach their end


Star photo by Lillian Palmer

Hospice of Sweetwater County nurse and case manager Christa Miller sorts through supplies she might take with her to visit a hospice patient.

There is a row of long vertical wooden frames that line the hallway in the Hospice of Sweetwater County office. Within the frames are lists of names, separated by years. The names are the people, every patient that hospice has had in its service over the years, dating back to their first patient in 1983.

"Every patient has been important to us somehow," hospice nurse Susan Arguello said.

"I remember every person on there," a second hospice nurse, Christa Miller, said.

Every hospice nurse travels a journey with their patients. Some journeys are longer than others, yet every one is just as important and meaningful. Many of those involved with hospice, nurses, staff and volunteers alike have been touched by a death personally and is the reason they work in hospice; it's a calling.

"It really does help a person if you've walked a similar journey," hospice's executive director Pam Jelaca said.

The hospice journey begins when a life is going to end. Hospice can be an illusive term for those who don't know what it is. For those who know, they know all too well.

"I feel like you don't know about hospice until you use hospice," Misty Cozad, community relations coordinator for hospice, said.

Hospice of Sweetwater County is a not-for-profit organization that provides the most cost-effective and medically appropriate form of care at the end of life, due to a life-limiting illness. Services include patient-family services, and bereavement services. The services hospice provides though, is more personal than the text-book definition.

"It's just the opportunity for people to spend their remaining time as they choose, with their pain and symptoms managed in their home or a place they call home, cared for by the people that mean the most to them. And it's care on their terms," Jelaca said. "You're able to help people understand that they still matter, their life still has value."

A hospice nurse will typically visit the patient and their family in their home as often as the patient needs, and will provide pain and symptom management, as well as emotional and spiritual support. The nurse will supply the patient with any medication, supplies and equipment needed to manage their illness.

"If they can still be up and about and enjoying things, we like to help them achieve that," Jelaca said. "Our goal is to keep them comfortable and to enhance the quality of their life."

Other items a hospice nurse will bring on her patient visits usually range in personal-needs items. They bring these items, so the family doesn't need to go out and get them themselves. After items run out, hospice will restock them. It is part of the care hospice provides the patient and their family.

"It can be a burden on some families to get some of these supplies," Miller said. "Some of this is expensive."

The cost of hospice care does not effect whether a patient can receive hospice services. Care is given to a patient regardless of their ability to pay for services.

The financial help of Medicare, Medicaid, private insurances, Sweetwater County, United Way of Sweetwater County, grants, donations and memorials insure nobody goes uncared for.

"We provide a significant amount of uncompensated care every year," Jelaca said. "We don't refuse our care to anybody based on their ability to pay."

Jelaca's passion for the program, to be able to provide hospice care to anyone in need, stems from her own life story. When her father died of cancer, her family didn't know hospice existed and he went through much pain. It was a difficult experience for her father and for her.

"I wouldn't be doing this, if it wasn't for his death," she said. "What I wanted to do was help others have a peaceful, comfortable death; my father didn't. And when I learned that there was a program that helped with that, I wanted to be a part of it."


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