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Dispelling Myths and Understanding Hospice Care

Death. There, we got one of the most uncomfortable words in the English language out of the way first. What if I told you that death does not have to be uncomfortable? Dare I go as far as saying it can even be beautiful. A person’s journey to the inevitable can be made easier, more comfortable and even beautiful with the help of hospice.

There exists many beliefs about what hospice care is, and what it isn’t. Many of these beliefs are founded in myths perpetuated by the lack of proper education provided by hospice agencies themselves. At the inception of my career with Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions my understanding of what hospice care is aligned with many of the common myths I refer to below. Myths that induce a fear that keeps people from receiving the important end-of-life care they need and, most importantly, deserve.

Let’s dismiss the myths and replace them with the reality of what hospice is:

Myth #1: Hospice services are reserved for the last few days of life.

Truth: Hospice is for anyone diagnosed with a terminal disease and given a prognosis of six months or less of life if their disease were to follow the normal projection. Six-month prognosis is strictly a qualifier, services are not limited to that timeframe. Several patients have lived multiple years with the comfort and care provided by Central Wyoming Hospice.

Myth #2: Hospice is giving up, a patient will die quickly on hospice services.

Truth: Hospice does not hasten death. Hospice manages symptoms while the patient goes through the natural dying process. In fact, several studies have been completed, and the conclusion is the same: Patients with a chronic illness live an average of 30 days longer while using hospice services.

Myth #3: The use of morphine is what starts the dying process in patients.

Truth: Morphine, when used properly, does not hasten death. It is an effective pain reliever that works to block pain signals in the brain. In addition, morphine is effective in treating shortness of breath. Morphine will increase the lungs tidal volume, improving gas exchange with the result being a decrease in the patient experiencing shortness of breath. Morphine will make a patient more comfortable and improve quality of life.

Myth #4: Hospice is only for cancer patients.

Truth: Hospice care is available for any individual with a terminal illness, including cardiac, respiratory, neurological, and many other illnesses. The focus of care is tailored to the individual patient’s symptoms regardless of the disease process.

At Central Wyoming Hospice, we work to dispel myths about hospice care and educate the community on all that hospice care truly is. We are with patients as they walk through the final stages of their journey. We are with the families and caregivers as they process the loss of their loved ones, providing them with the tools to process their loss effectively.

Central Wyoming Hospice works closely with the patients and family members to determine the best plan of care for each individual patient. Hospice plans of care are determined in conjunction with each individual patient to ensure that all wishes are honored and respected.

If you or a loved one is ever faced with the decision, consider reaching out to Central Wyoming Hospice. There is always someone available to speak with you and answer any questions you may have. Hospice is all about providing comfort every step of the way and walking with you through every part of your end-of-life journey.

 

Michael Steele, RN

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Honoring Independence and Choice: The Truth About Hospice Care

As a nurse at Central Wyoming Hospice, I have witnessed firsthand how hospice care embodies the core Wyoming values of independence and choice, especially during life’s final chapters. Yet, misconceptions persist about what hospice truly represents. Let me share a heartfelt patient story that illustrates the profound impact of hospice on honoring individual autonomy.

I recently cared for Mr. Johnson*, a resilient rancher from our community who had been battling a terminal illness. Mr. Johnson epitomized Wyoming’s spirit of independence. He cherished his ranch and valued self-sufficiency above all else. When he was referred to our hospice program, there was apprehension from his family about what this transition would mean for him—a man who had always lived life on his own terms.

Initially, Mr. Johnson was skeptical about hospice. Like many, he believed the myth that hospice meant giving up control. However, as I worked closely with him and his family, I witnessed a transformation in his understanding of what hospice truly offered.

Hospice care empowered Mr. Johnson to remain independent in his own home, surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of his ranch. He was able to make choices about his care, expressing his preferences for pain management and comfort measures. Instead of feeling like he was losing control, Mr. Johnson discovered a newfound sense of agency in directing his end-of-life journey.

One day, Mr. Johnson shared with me how grateful he was to have the freedom to decide how he wanted to spend his remaining time. He reflected on his life experiences and expressed a deep sense of peace, knowing that he could maintain his independence even as he received the support of our hospice team.

This experience encapsulates the essence of hospice care in Wyoming—a commitment to honoring each individual’s autonomy and dignity. Hospice is not about taking away choices; it’s about empowering patients like Mr. Johnson to navigate their journey with grace and self-determination.

Unfortunately, myths persist about hospice, including the misconception that it’s only for the very end of life or that it means foregoing all medical treatments. In reality, hospice is tailored to meet patients’ needs at any stage of a terminal illness, focusing on enhancing quality of life and providing comprehensive support.

At Central Wyoming Hospice, we are dedicated to debunking these myths and promoting a deeper understanding of hospice care. We believe in the importance of preserving independence and choice for every patient we serve. Our interdisciplinary team works collaboratively with patients and families to develop personalized care plans that prioritize comfort, dignity, and individual preferences.

As a nurse committed to upholding Wyoming values, I encourage our community to embrace hospice not as a surrender, but as a pathway to honoring the autonomy and independence of our loved ones during life’s final journey. Let us celebrate the freedom that hospice provides—a freedom to live fully until the very end, on one’s own terms.

In honoring independence and choice, let us dispel the misconceptions surrounding hospice and recognize it as a beacon of compassionate care that aligns perfectly with the spirit of our great state.

Michael Steele, RN

Central Wyoming Hospice

*Name changed to protect privacy

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Today’s Thoughts: “And if you love nothing, what joy is there in your life?”

Hi all! Today’s thoughts. 

“And if you love nothing, what joy is there in your life?”

Do you need a little joy today?  

Have you asked yourself lately if you truly love anyone, anything, enough to take great joy in it?

In the movie First Knight, Lancelot is a highly skilled swordsman who fights for pay. 

By accident, he comes across a princess and her entourage under attack in the woods.

In a rare moment of selflessness, he decides to act on her behalf. Quite taken by the princess, Guinevere, he later visits her in Camelot. While there, Lancelot competes in the festival games. Lancelot runs the “gauntlet,” an impossible obstacle course of swinging boulders and axes. With amazing agility, he beats the game.

King Arthur is curious about this unknown winner of the games.  In private, he asks him how he beat the gauntlet.

Lancelot explains that fear caused others to fail, but “I have nothing to lose, so what have I to fear?” He has no home and no family. 

Proudly, he claims, “I live by my sword.” 

As they walk toward the room that holds the Round Table, King Arthur tells Lancelot about the values of Camelot.

“Here we believe that every life is precious, even the lives of strangers. If you must die, die serving something greater than yourself. Better still, live and serve.”

 At the Round Table, where the High Council of Camelot meets, King Arthur tells him the table has no head or foot; they are all equal, even the King. 

Lancelot reads the inscription on the table: “In serving each other, we become free.” 

King Arthur remarks: “That is the very heart of Camelot. Not these stones, timbers, towers, palaces. Burn them all, and Camelot lives on. Because it lives in us, it’s a belief we hold in our hearts.” 

King Arthur invites Lancelot to stay in Camelot, but he declines. 

As he’s leaving, King Arthur tells him: “Lancelot, just a thought. A man who fears nothing is a man who loves nothing. And if you love nothing, what joy is there in your life?”

It is in loving, which mandates serving and sacrificing, that we find great joy. 

Are you full of joy today? Perhaps if you have no joy, the more important question is, are you really loving? 

 

Much love to you,

Tami

Central Wyoming Hospice & My Mom

In celebration of National Hospice & Palliative Care Month, we would like to share a story.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, Mom looked so different. It had only been six months since I had seen her, but she had lost so much weight. Her clothes were hanging off her. She was moving much slower, and she barely touched her favorite part of Thanksgiving—the pecan pie. I wasn’t sure what to do. That is when a friend suggested I call Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions. I did. It was one of the hardest calls I have ever made, but also one of the best calls.

That afternoon, a nurse came over to visit us. She explained that the hospice team would help take care of my mother, me, and the rest of our family. They could provide visits from nurses, home health aides, volunteers, social workers, chaplains, and even a Nurse Practitioner. She told us that they would help get Mom a hospital bed and walker or wheelchair if she needed it. The nurses would also help manage her medications. Her regular doctor would continue to be her doctor, and the hospice staff would coordinate her care. The nurse said we would be a part of every decision, they weren’t here to tell us what to do, but to support us through this journey.

I knew Mom didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore, but I wasn’t sure how that would really look or how I would be able to respect this decision. Hospice was exactly what I needed.

Losing my Mom was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. I know the Thanksgiving table will feel different this year, but I also know my Mom enjoyed her final months. She looked forward to the hospice nurse’s visits and her talks with the chaplains. One of my favorite memories is walking into Mom’s home and seeing a home health aide curling Mom’s hair after she had just painted Mom’s nails bright pink. I will miss her every day, but I know she was cared for, she was comfortable, and she was at peace.

-Anonymous

Tree of Love: A Celebration of Life

For many, the holidays symbolize a poignant time for celebration, love, and connections with family. For those of us who have lost a loved one, it can also bring a time of remembrance. Our annual “Tree of Love” event is an opportunity to remember those special people in our lives. Please join us to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on Sunday, December 3rd, at 5:00pm at Central Wyoming Hospice, 319 S. Wilson St.

“Tree of Love” is both a remembrance of special people in our lives and an important source of much needed funds for our comprehensive patient care programs. Your gift carries with it a message of caring for others in the community while perpetuating the memory of someone special.

For more information, please call (307) 577-4832 or email Rachel at rachelm@cwhp.org.

A Prayer Just For Today…

A Chaplain’s Heart

Hospice Nursing: A Work of Heart

“For the sick, it’s important to have the best.”—Florence Nightingale

May is National Nurses Month, which seems insufficient time to celebrate the skill, compassion, and hard work of nurses all over the world. Although all nurses deserve to be recognized, it takes a special heart to become a hospice nurse and we at Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions are very grateful for our amazing nurses. They take on myriad roles, from caring for patients and families in their own homes or in our Hospice Homes, to providing answers, education, and leadership.

Hospice nurses are special because they are invited into a person’s life at one of their most vulnerable points. No matter the age, a terminal diagnosis typically comes as unexpected. At CWHT, we too often receive referrals for patients that went to the hospital for something that was thought to be benign and ended up being terminal, according to Michael Steele RN, CWHT Community Nurse Manager.  “Patients and loved ones are attempting to process the news they have been delivered, and the CWHT nurses are there to help direct the medical care and navigate the family through the approaching unknown. The unknown of how this recently diagnosed disease will affect their physical health and possibly mental well-being,” he says. “It’s a vulnerable time for the family, where the nurse isn’t tasked with ‘fixing’ or ‘helping heal’ the patient but rather managing the patient’s symptoms and helping heal the hearts of those who are left behind.”

“Every single nurse who works here at Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions has made the choice to work here,” Steele points out. “This is not a job, but rather a calling. They all have received extensive and ongoing training in end-of-life care and exemplify what it means to be a nurse at the end of life. Our nurses work hard to build personal relationships, founded in trust, with their patients and their patient’s families so when the nurse is needed, the family knows they are receiving the best care possible.”

The nurses at Central Wyoming Hospice care not only for the patient, but for the whole family, says Steele. “We view the family as important as the patient. We make sure their needs are being met, encouraging them to care for themselves, so they can care for their loved ones.”

We are honored that our CWHT nurses share so much of themselves. It truly is a work of heart.

Those Called to Serve

The Power of Giving

Let’s call her Ann. Ann is a 64-year-old grandmother who was diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 months ago. Not wanting her final days to be spent sick, in a hospital, without her family, Ann and her loved ones decided to utilize the services of Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. Ann will be using these services for 51 days. During this time, Ann will receive 31 nursing visits and 37 home health aide visits. Throughout these visits, Ann will make it a point to learn each of her caregivers’ names and their favorite books. She’ll have her favorite nurse, of course. But she’ll be sure to make each nurse or aide feel like they’re her favorite. Her smile is contagious and, even though she is in pain, that smile never wanes. 

Ann’s cost of direct care – including staff, medication, supplies, and medical equipment – will be about $8,809. And she is just one of the countless patients that has benefitted from the services of Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions because of people like you.

In 2022, Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions served 438 patients. 

CWHT serves, on average, 66.2 patients a day. 

The average duration of hospice care for patients was 50.7 days. 

92 veterans were served; 45 of whom received a special ceremony. 

88 volunteers contributed 2,560 hours of their time.

$342,000 in charity care was provided.

It costs approximately $700 a day to offer care to just one patient. 

And all of those numbers prove just how pivotal community donations are to Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. 

As a nonprofit organization, CWHT relies on community support in order to sustain the vast and varied services that it offers to the sick, the elderly, and the dying. 

“We have one of the most generous communities in the Rocky Mountain West, if not the entire United States,” said Kilty Brown, the Executive Director of Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. “Our donors are incredibly supportive. And it’s not just these big donors who sweep in with a large amount. It’s the smaller individuals, or families, who maybe send in a $25 check every month just because they’re grateful for the care their mom received.” 

The big donations are important; vital even. But so are the smaller donations from the individuals who give what they can. These donations, all of them, large and small, allow CWHT to operate in the way they believe is best for the community in which they serve. They don’t have to answer to a big corporate conglomerate who is more concerned with ‘the bottom line’ than they are with the actual patients. 

“I think that if we were a for-profit hospice, you’d see a totally different type of care,” Brown stated. “I think one of the reasons that we’re nonprofit is because that way, we can offer care that nobody else does, with our hospice home in particular. Our hospice homes are incredibly important to the community. They’re a safety net for the elderly and for the dying. And it’s important for our community to have them.”

Why are they so important? It’s because, for some of these people, Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions is the only place they have. 

“You have patients like elderly men or women who never got married or who never had children and have nobody to care for them,” Brown said. “Or sometimes we have homeless patients who just don’t have any family around. Sometimes we have ranchers who live out in the middle of the country and, like in winters that we’ve had this past year, you just can’t get to them easily. So, I think we really need these homes, but we just couldn’t do that without donors.” 

Medicare and other forms of insurance help offset some of the costs associated with hospice and transition care for Wyoming patients, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. 

“Our hospice home for the population in Wyoming is something that we just can’t sustain off of Medicare and insurance alone,” Brown said. “These are money-losing endeavors for us. And that’s why donations are so important. Your money is going towards paying for care in our hospice homes and providing patient care for the dying. It costs us about $700 per day to care for one person. And we only receive payment of $580 per day. So, every day, we’re losing $120 per patient. So, when you’re donating, you’re paying for nurses, you’re paying for aides, you’re paying for the upkeep of the homes. You’re paying for care.” 

You’re paying for care. Every dollar that is given goes towards the care of the sick, the elderly, and the dying. Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions would simply not exist without donations from community members, and they mean it when they say every dollar counts. Whether it’s $5 or $500. 

“Without your support, we couldn’t be here, period,” Brown said. “We wouldn’t have our doors open. And I think care for the elderly would look very different in Wyoming. I’ve seen homes where there hasn’t been hospice care, and it’s a crisis. It’s not having access to medicine. It’s not having access to comfort. It’s not having access to basic pain control. And I think that, by donating, you become that stop-gap towards allowing our community to have such important access to dignity and comfort at the end of life.” 

Dignity. That is the word that stayed in the back of Ann’s mind throughout her time with Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. Dignity for Ann, and dignity for her family. Throughout their time together, neither Ann, nor her family, had to worry about the cost of her care; they just had to be there to hold her hand, to see her smile. Ann’s community took care of her. They allowed her to die with dignity.  

Ann is just one of the hundreds of patients that Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions provides care for every year. Her story is a familiar one and it demonstrates just how important the power of giving really is.

To make donations and find out more about the types of services that your donations pay for, visit centralwyominghospice.org/donate.

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