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Titan Tuesday: Hospice Care 101 with Patrick Bullocks of VITAS Healthcare

Hospice is one of those taboo topics that people don’t like to bring up. It makes us acknowledge something that no one wants to talk about – death.  While the end of life is never easy, hospice is a resource that is there to help your loved one get the best and most appropriate care possible.


Most people are not aware that Alzheimer’s and other end-stage dementia may qualify someone for hospice care. To find out if your loved one qualifies for hospice you must first speak with the primary care physician who will then arrange a hospice evaluation.  If an evaluation is made and it is determined that your loved one does not meet the qualifications, in some cases hospice may be able to refer you to home health or palliative care resources.


Services vary depending on the company but may include bath assistance, a 24-hour on-call nurse and helpline, a social worker, chaplain, medication monitoring, massage therapy, pet therapy, music therapy and grief counseling.  At 2 a.m. when your loved one has a health challenge and you have no idea how to handle it, a hospice nurse is available via phone or in person to help you. When you are stressed out and frustrated and don’t know how to help your loved one, hospice can be a valuable resource.


One of the most surprising things I have learned about hospice is that patients can be discharged from hospice if their health improves. That person would be discharged until they again have a terminal trajectory.


This week’s Titan is Patrick Bullocks, Community Liaison at a local hospice company here in Dallas. I have not been asked to endorse this particular company, it just so happens that the Titan I chose for this week's feature works there. I chose him because of his passion for helping families and the community. He is committed to making sure that those in need are aware of available resources.


There are hundreds of hospice choices. As with all things, do your research and find a company that best fits your needs. Sometimes, that might not be the first company you come across.  We went through two other evaluations before finding a company that worked for my family. You can find an accredited hospice through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.


Q. Hi Patrick, I understand you work for VITAS Healthcare in Dallas, Texas. Tell me more about that and the background of VITAS as a national company.


Yes, I am a Community Liaison at VITAS Healthcare in Dallas where I’ve had the pleasure of working for eight years. As one of the first and leading hospice providers in the United States, VITAS has been setting the national standards for hospice since the company was established in 1978. We have a rich history of bringing quality, compassionate care to people at the end of life, and we have served more than 1 million patients since our inception and take care of almost 15,000 patients a day.


Q.  What is the role of a community liaison at VITAS Healthcare?


The role of a community liaison is to “bridge the gap” between the community and the hospice field by educating the community about the hospice benefit and providing them with the necessary resources so they can to make the best informed decisions about their end-of-life care planning.


Q. What is hospice?


Hospice is an end-of-life care option for people with a terminal illness, when medical treatments cannot cure their diseases. It’s a philosophy of care that gives people choice and dignity during a very important time of their lives. Hospice care focuses on enhancing patients’ comfort and overall quality of life during their last moments of life by treating physical symptoms and providing pain management, as well as addressing their emotional and spiritual needs.


Q. Who provides hospice care to the patients?


Hospice care is provided by skilled, hospice professionals, also referred to as the “interdisciplinary team,” which is comprised of doctors, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, chaplains, bereavement specialists and trained volunteers. Many of our employees have worked in hospice care for more than 25 years so we have a rich pool of knowledgeable professionals.


Q. What is the difference between palliative care and hospice care?


Hospice care is available to anyone who has been determined by their physician to have six months or less to live. Palliative care/medicine is not hospice care. Palliative medicine specialists provide medical consultations to seriously ill patients and their family members. Unlike hospice, palliative medicine does not require a 6-month or less prognosis, patients do not need to be terminally ill and they can continue to seek aggressive curative treatments to combat their illness.


Q. I know many of our readers think of hospice as a place where you go and die and is only for someone who’s older, or just for people with cancer. What have you found to be the biggest stigma associated with hospice?


You are correct, these are all typical hospice myths we encounter daily. Hospice isn’t a place. It’s the treatment of physical and emotional pain and symptoms at the end of life. The care is provided wherever our patients are located. In fact, people of all ages face death. Whether a patient is young or old, hospice care is customized to meet the patient’s unique individual needs. It’s also not limited to cancer patients. VITAS cares for patients of all ages with a wide range of life-limiting illnesses like cancer; heart disease; stroke; lung, liver and kidney disease; multiple sclerosis; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS; and Alzheimer’s among others.


Q. We also found out that culturally, the topic of hospice has a stigma within different ethnic groups. What do you think?


Many people are not aware that hospice care is a benefit they’re entitled to receive when they meet the medical criteria. People are simply not aware of what hospice does and how it can help them and their families. As a community liaison at VITAS, my focus is the African-American community and studies have shown African Americans tend to underutilize hospice. We’ve learned this is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of hospice and why it’s so important for them and their families.


Q. Does hospice care mean that the patient and family have “given up?”


That’s another stigma or myth we often hear in hospice care, and in my experience, within the African American community as well. No, hospice care does not mean the patient or family is giving up. It means a change of focus – essentially putting patients or their families in control and helping them make choices about their own care. Most importantly, hospice aims to make life as comfortable, enjoyable and meaningful as possible.


Q. Why is it important for people to begin their end-of-life care planning early or advance directives as some may know it, and when should the patient or family start thinking about hospice?


Realistically speaking, for many people, it’s difficult to discuss their medical wishes with their family because it brings up thoughts of sadness and grief. However, at VITAS, we believe it is everyone’s right to establish a living will or advance directive to ensure that family and doctors honor your wishes during a critical medical time. If a loved one has been diagnosed by their doctor as having six months or less to live, it is often recommended to explore hospice care. Knowing your end-of-life care choices before a health crisis occurs is the best way to minimize any issues if the time does come to choose a hospice provider.


Q. Why do families with a loved one that is near the end of life choose VITAS?


VITAS has earned a reputation as a leading provider of choice in Dallas because the company has always made it a top priority to focus on providing the best-possible hospice services. We are proud that patients and their families choose VITAS based on positive testimonials and referrals from health care professionals, for the high-quality, compassionate care we are known to provide. If anyone has questions about hospice or end-of-life care planning, they can visit www.VITAS.com or call (800) 93-VITAS.

Thank you, Patrick.

Anyone I’ve spoken with about hospice has had nothing but good things to say about how helpful they have been through a difficult time. Have you had experience with hospice care? What advice would you give someone considering hospice?

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