Celebrating 35 Years of Hospice on the Lakeshore

Many social issues swing like a pendulum between two extremes. End-of-life care is one such issue. As recently as the 1960s, it was not unusual for Grandma or Grandpa to pass away at home. Death was an accepted part of life. That started to change as women entered the workforce in the 1970s, and there were fewer people available to care for aging parents. Then people started migrating to the hospital to die. Along the way, our culture developed an aversion to talking about the end of life.

The pendulum has gradually swung back since the 1980s, because it became obvious that more people wanted to spend their last days at home rather than in the hospital. Now hospice care allows people to finish life at home, surrounded by their memories and their loved ones. Residents of the lakeshore have the hospice option thanks to pioneering work by Jim VanDyke, Nancy Edelmayer, and Dr. Ted Vanderveen. These three people led a citizens group to form the lakeshore’s first hospice organization in 1982. The basic premise of hospice care is simple. It’s designed to provide comfort and symptom management for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We are not focused on a cure at this point…we make patients comfortable, and provide the support services that they and their loved ones need. This allows them to spend the end of life in dignity and peace. While that care can be delivered anywhere, it is most prevalent in a home environment.

Hospice of North Ottawa Community celebrates 35 years of service this year. There has been a lot of change in hospice care in the last three decades.
• Medicare added a benefit for hospice care in 1990. That move signaled acceptance of both the cost savings of home-based end-of-life care, as well as the emotional benefits for patient and family. It also provided more financial sustainability for hospice providers, who no longer had to rely solely on philanthropy.

• Hospice achieved recognition as a medical specialty in 2006. The medical profession acknowledged the need for experienced end-of-life care providers, and designed programs to give providers the knowledge they needed.

• Medical students used to receive zero training on end-of-life care. Now students start learning about it in the second year of medical school.

• Hospice of North Ottawa Community opened a hospice residence in 2008. This is a place where people can come for a few days when caregivers need a break. We also provide care for people who have no one to take care of them, and for people whose medical needs require more continuous support.

Statistics show that people are making different choices about where to finish their end-of-life care. In 1989, 49 percent of people over age 65 died as hospital inpatients. By 2007, the number had decreased dramatically to 35 percent. The number of deaths at home increased by a corresponding amount. Much of that change is due to a growing preference for hospice care.

There are three important things you should know
about hospice care.
• Volunteers play a huge role in delivering care. They visit patients so caregivers can take a break. They listen and provide a caring presence. Hospice of North Ottawa Community is very fortunate to have 50 volunteers who give of their time every year. (See insert to learn more about the local Hospice Heroes we are honoring this year.)
• No one is ever turned away. As mentioned above, many insurance programs do provide a hospice benefit. If someone does not have insurance, we will still provide care. Our annual fundraiser, “One to Remember,” helps us augment the funds needed to provide the kind of care our patients need.
• Hospice makes the journey easier. Thinking about the end of life can be scary. It’s not a topic that most people want to discuss. But when compassionate, talented people provide the complete support that is needed, both patient and family can embrace life’s final days with peace and love. Patients and loved ones often tell us that they wish they had called us sooner. Do not hesitate to call, even if it’s just to ask questions. Our knowledgeable staff is ready to help.

We sincerely thank our pioneering founders, our selfless volunteers and our committed staff for making excellent hospice care available on the lakeshore.

If you have questions about hospice or palliative care, please contact us at 616-846-2015.

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