The 2010 Presidential proclamation signed at the opening of the month was the thirtieth of its kind carried out since Jimmy Carter's administration, yet local representatives continue to struggle with awareness efforts as they overcome stereotypes and misperceptions.
The proclamation states: "All Americans should take comfort in the important work of hospice care, which enables individuals to carry on their lives, in spite of a terminal illness. During this month, let us recognize those who allow the terminally ill to receive comfortable and dignified care."
Earlier this month, a Bartow County service provider, Regency Hospice, held a Charity Benefit to raise toys and monetary donations for the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots. Hosting a public event for benevolent means was one way local hospice organizations reached out to increase awareness.
"A lot of people don't understand what hospice does," said Caroline Talley, Regency Hospice director of community relations. "They are fearful of it and truthfully, when the hospice team comes into the home -- and a hospice patient can be anywhere home is, it can be in an assisted living, nursing home, hospital wherever they call home -- when the team comes in, not only does the patient receive the full support and medical attention and medications that they need but the family does as well. There are so many needs that the caretaker or caregiver is balancing and the hospice team comes in and helps lighten that load."
Organizations also took advantage of this opportunity to show support for their employees. Companies paid special attention to those workers who provide service to others through corporate dinners and gifts for those who typically spend their days in service to others.
For Heartland Hospice, public education efforts were redoubled throughout the month strengthening relationships and focusing on new partnerships with affiliate organizations.
"We've really put an emphasis here lately on getting out and being a voice for advocacy for the great industry that we represent which is hospice," said David Blanton, hospice liaison for Heartland, adding that outreach has been increased among nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home care providers. "The goal is to partner with any kind of agency or service in the Cartersville and Bartow County area that wants to enrich the lives of our seniors specifically."
Both representatives noted that a large point of misunderstanding lies in cost when actually hospice has fallen under the range of Medicare entitlements since 1983. Many private insurance plans cover the cost as well although a common practice, adopted by both Regency and Heartland, is to provide hospice care at no cost to the patient if coverage is not available.
Another common myth of the hospice industry relayed by Talley and Blanton is the range of care provided.
"Some people believe it's no treatment and that's false. We do provide treatment, we just don't provide curative treatment. For example if people have needs related to symptom management and pain, we're going to aggressively treat that," Blanton said.
Talley also commented on the length of treatment which has changed over time to be inclusive of several months at the patient's end of life, generally assessed by a physician within a six month prognosis.
"It doesn't always mean six months or less but the doctor needs to feel that if the patient continues to decline at the rate that they're declining that they would have six months or less. I have seen many people who have lived far longer than that and some people come off of hospice because they improve. Often they'll come back but they'll come off, I think it's all the additional attention and stabilizing," Talley said.
Although anyone can request an informational session with the hospice provider of their choice, a patient must be referred to hospice by their doctor for an assessment.
Summing up the industry she serves, Talley reflected on the purpose of hospice and the inspiration for observing November as National Hospice Month.
"It's a better way to live. Hospice is all about living fully until you die, living fully the life that you have and living it with dignity and not with pain," Talley said.