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Hospice caringly leads families on final journey

by Sandra Faye Douthit - Reporter
| January 10, 2012 1:50 PM

Improving the quality of life for a terminally ill patient is just the beginning of the work done by the St. John’s Lutheran Hospital Hospice and Home Health Services (HHHS).

“Hospice is a team,” Lina Ridge, R.N., and Case Manager for HHHS, said. “We work together to improve someone’s quality of life.”

Ridge recently resigned her position as the HHHS Manager to accept the positions as the Case Manager for HHHS. Ridge will no longer sit behind the computer as much, she will be visiting homes and individuals needing services.

The Hospice team is comprised of physicians, nurses, spiritual-care counselors and social workers; aids — personal care and homemaking; volunteers and therapists — physical, occupational and speech,  and bereavement counseling.

“We (hospice team) are a ‘pit crew’ for the family,” Laura Sedler, B.S.W., social worker and volunteer coordinator for HHHS, said. “We make it (death) as meaningful as possible for families.”

“Every family has their own journey. We want families to know they got through it on their own — the family did it, not us.”

The Medicare hospice program began in Libby in June 2000. The Home Health and the Kootenai Volunteer Hospice were available to patients and their families until the Medicare hospice was available.

In the first six months, the hospice program assisted as many as nine families. By the fifth year, the program helped more than 30 families. Currently, the program aids more than 70 families a year, sometimes assisting 20 families at one time.

“We cover a 50-mile radius — county line to Middle Thompson, Bull Lake, state line off Highway 2, mile-marker No. 29 and as far as Warland,” Sedler said.

Home Health Services is for patients whom are homebound, although not terminally ill. The patients are provided support and care to help improve their health.

Hospice is a service for patients who are terminally ill, with less than six months to live.

HHHS relies greatly on the volunteers, whether they are indirect or direct. Indirect volunteers are called upon to organize fundraisers, parades, and handle paperwork — never working with patients. However, working for them to provide continued quality care and services.

Direct volunteers are trained once a year to assist terminally ill and administer home health care. These volunteers are available to travel to homes, caring for patients and their loved ones.

HHHS will hold its annual volunteer training in March.

“Volunteers may volunteer what they can and when they can,” Sedler said.

HHHS has 25 to 30 active volunteers.

“Many of the volunteers realize the realities of death by working with the families,” Sedler said. “They live richer lives because they don’t kid themselves about death — they see how real it is and how it will happen to all of us at some point.”

Medicare and many insurance programs cover the cost of Hospice and Home Health services. However, there are the few, which may not. Because SJLH is a not-for-profit organization, through community donations, fundraisers and various programs there are ways for patients to get the coverage they need.

“Hospice is not about dying, it’s about living,” Ridge said.

“Helping people make memories they can live with,” Sedler said. “They will say, ‘Yes it was tough watching a family member die, but I wouldn’t trade the experience’.”

“We (HHHS) are the ambassadors for the community,” Sedler said. “We are advocates for the end-of-life care.”

For more information about Home Health and Hospice services or to volunteer persons may call 283-7300.