Wednesday, October 30, 2019

November 1 is Social Media Action Day!

A Day of National “Hospice Awareness” Friday, November 1, 2019

#HospiceMonth   #HospiceAwareness #hpm

In recognition of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, NHPCO encourages all member organizations, professionals and supporters to participate in our annual social media action day, traditionally the first Friday in November – this year, it’s Friday, November 1, 2019.

NHPCO wants the hospice and palliative care community to flood social media with images that promote awareness of hospice and palliative care. This guiding theme, My Hospice: A Program that works. A Benefit that Matters, will allow participants to share a wide range of photos, images or videos – all to help people better understand the value of hospice and palliative care.

Social media posts on November 1 should feature photos, graphics or short videos provided by hospice and palliative care organizations/professionals or individuals that capture hospice and/or palliative care at its best – the specific post we leave up to you!

Spread positive messaging on November 1 - and all month long in recognition of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.

Download NHPCO's Social Media Action Day tip sheet (PDF).

Monday, October 21, 2019

Birdie's Heart for Hospice

As I walk into the Malone, New York office of Hospice of the North Country, I’m reminded of all the memories I have from working at the organization. I started my career in hospice and communications there twelve years ago.  Every day I was amazed at the work my clinical colleagues were doing. I wasn’t at the bedside, but occasionally, I got to go into patient’s homes and interview them and their families. It was the highlight of my job. I looked forward to lunches spent with the nurses, who would talk about the different events of the day. They never stopped thinking about their patients…even at a lunch break where they could easily use the time to talk about the latest episode The Bachelor (okay we did that sometimes!).

Now that I work at NHPCO, I am more aware of what is going on with hospice care on a national level. Regulatory changes, reimbursement cuts, and new payment models are just some of the things we are currently facing as a community. Healthcare in this country is constantly evolving and hospice is facing many challenges. The reality is that hospice will probably look different in five years. We are seeing a greater need for providers to be innovative when it comes to care delivery all while preserving the mission of hospice care.

Naturally, it’s easy to get wrapped up by these issues. They are so important to our community and at NHPCO, we must do everything we can to guide providers through these challenges. However, I wanted to get back to the basics, back on the ground meeting with those who are doing the work at the bedside. So, I went back to HONC and interviewed an amazing human being and hospice volunteer – Birdie Leavitt.

Birdie is a person I will remember for the rest of my life. She checks off all the hospice volunteer criteria – because her husband and family member received such quality hospice care, she felt she needed to give back and signed up to volunteer. She is willing to visit with anyone at any time, go into any living situation, and drive miles upon miles on country roads, sometimes in a snowstorm, to get to her patient’s home. She will come into the office and stuff envelopes, shred paper, and cuddle the office cats Alice and Tommy.

Birdie and one of the hospice cats.
I talked with Birdie about her experience as a hospice volunteer and I was so pleased to learn that she had the same passion, if not more, for hospice and volunteering now as she did when I worked with her seven years ago. Birdie has a binder that is full of memorabilia from her time at HONC. It’s a lot thicker today than it was the last time I looked through it. Since 2004, she has collected thank you notes, messages, obituaries, and mementos of the patients and families she cared for.

She reminisced about the range of activities she has performed as a hospice volunteer – making breakfast, doing dishes, picking up a few items at the grocery store for a family after their loved one died, singing along as a patient performed her daily comforting activity of playing the piano, and visiting with a patient and family on Thanksgiving Day.

Birdie told a story about a nursing home patient who didn’t have any family to provide support and companionship. This person had only the staff charged to care for them. The team at HONC made a commitment to staff five volunteers daily so the patient wouldn’t be alone in their final days. Birdie visited the patient and would wheel them out to the courtyard to look at the flowers and plants. It was one of the only times this patient left their room since being admitted weeks before. The patient’s disease had made it difficult for them to speak but, during one of Birdie’s visits, they communicated by grabbing Birdie’s hand and placing it against their cheek. Birdie had made an impact on this patient and they remembered her through the dementia and loneliness.

Many people don’t understand that hospice teams will go into any home and living condition to ensure that a patient is cared for. Birdie talked about two patients she was volunteering for. One of the patients lived in a beautiful home with a gorgeous chandelier. The other patient lived in a trailer with a hole in the floor. When Birdie sat down, a chipmunk peeked out its head. Her comment to this contrast in living situations, “With hospice, no matter how you live where you are, you get the same care as the next person.”

When I asked Birdie if she gets attached to her patients, she said without hesitation, “You do get attached to them. I can tell when the time is getting short, when it’s getting close.”

I learned that HONC is taking steps to provide emotional care for their volunteers, to ensure that they understand and recognize the symptoms of grief that they might feel after losing their patients. Bereavement coordinators will be providing a seminar for all the volunteers in the organization this fall. Volunteers are encouraged to attend and have been told they can bring friends along because hospice cares for the whole community, not just those receiving hospice care.

Finally, I asked Birdie what hospice meant to her. She answered, “It means everything. It means doing something for somebody else. It means more for me than I could ever do for them.”

Birdie is the model hospice volunteer. But she’s so much more than that...just like hospice is more than just a piece of the United States healthcare system. There are thousands of hospice volunteers, like Birdie, across the country and they are one of the reasons hospice care is so unique. We often hear that volunteers are the “heart of hospice.” They are also the foundation of hospice, as this movement was started by volunteers. They are an integral component of the interdisciplinary model of care that makes hospice special. 

You will not find this type of care in any other part of healthcare in this country. I didn’t need to go back to HONC to understand why hospice is so important because I was already a believer and advocate for our community. But it’s always good to be reminded that people like Birdie are out there, willing to sit with your dying loved while you take a much-needed break, do the dishes that are piling up because you are more focused on caregiving, or sit by your side as you take your final breath.

Hospice might look very different five years from now. Let’s preserve and protect that pieces of  hospice care that make it so special. Let’s make sure the Birdies out there can continue to make house calls to patients and families who need a little extra help.

By Amanda Bow
Senior Director, Communications and Digital Strategy