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Friday, February 24, 2012

Did you know that almost half of us will use a hospice service in our lives?

        Hospice services are a relatively new service that began to be developed in Europe in the 1950's and 1960's. The United States really began to look at this type of service with the "On Death and Dying" book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to attend an all day training given by Kubler-Ross in DC in 1973.  She spoke of her experiences working with dying patients and how that experience had changed her perspective on dying and how we treated dying patients so poorly.  Her tales of people who described experiencing another world resembled what people who have experienced a "near death" experience have described.

       The first hospice services developed in this country were generally not in medical settings but were trained volunteers providing emotional support to the dying individual and their family.  Health insurance didn't reimburse for this type on non medical service.  This was the way that hospice services started in Howard County in the 1980's.  Hospice Services of Howard County was an organization that used primarily volunteers supervised by Elaine Patico, the Executive Director.

      What changed this service was that Medicare starting to fund hospice services that were provided within a health care setting.  This has pushed private health insurers to also pay for hospice services and suddenly hospice services moved from trained volunteers to paid professionals.  While much of hospice services are still provided in home many hospice programs have affiliated with medical facilities to provide an  inpatient  component.

         I had a personal experience with hospice services this past December with my Father.  Entering the hospital with pneumonia after Thanksgiving and not responding to treatment the recommendation was to move him to hospice care.  Even though this was provided in a hospital setting it was the appropriate way for him to live his final few days.  While a difficult process to experience the way the hospice nurses, social workers and chaplain supported my family was wonderful.  I was glad that this was available to us at that time.
       Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Gilchrist Hospice Center in Columbia and talk with Cliff Hughes the Development Associate.  While we might not like to think of hospice services and the fact that most of us will need this type of service in our final days it is comforting to know that we have a hospice center that is everything you would want in this type of facility.
          What impressed me was that everything is designed to meet the needs of the dying individual and their family.  Each room opens to an outside area that permits the dying individual to be outside in good weather like yesterday.  The door leading to the outside from each room is wide enough to roll out the hospital bed if the person is bedridden.
        A family lounge and chapel room are available to the family.  Each room has a computer for use by the families and a private bathroom.  There is a stocked kitchen for family to use and the smell of chocolate chip cookies welcomed everyone to the facility yesterday. There is even one room designed for terminally ill children.

As they describe their services:
Gilchrist Center Howard County (GCHC), a much-needed and greatly-anticipated 10-bed acute care inpatient hospice center in Columbia, began accepting its first patients during the week of May 23, 2011.
Located in the Howard County Health Park off Cedar Lane, the 8,600 square-foot center, which provides care for both adult and pediatric patients, is the culmination of an intensive study of how best to meet the needs of our patients and families who reside in Howard County. It is Gilchrist's second hospice center dedicated to providing the highest quality acute inpatient care for terminally-ill patients in Central Maryland.
To date, Gilchrist has raised more than $1 million to benefit the new center; our goal is $2.5 million to help pay the $1.7 million in one-time construction and capital costs associated with GCHC, as well as the recurring costs of approx. $800,000 providing acute inpatient services that exceed insurance reimbursement.
Designed to mirror the warmth and comfort of the original Gilchrist Center in Towson, the rooms at GCHC, which look out on beautifully-landscaped gardens, have individual verandas with doors wide enough to push a hospital bed through. Much of the evidence of medical care is hidden within the room's design. And the hallways and doors to the rooms reflect warm colors, unlike those in many health care facilities.
The center itself is devoted to ensuring that its patients are able to approach the end of life in comfort and with dignity, surrounded by those they love. As such, families are encouraged to visit at all hours, to bring visitors of all ages, as well as beloved pets, and to use the community areas, including a chapel and family rooms, to gather and reflect.
In the nearly eight months since its opening, more than 250 patients have benefitted from the compassionate, specialized care that has quickly become a hallmark of GCHC. The vast majority resided in Howard County; others came from nearby communities in adjacent counties or sought out GCHC because their loved ones live close by.
Most of the patients spent a very short time at the new center - less than a week. But we know, anecdotally, that their time with us, though brief, was meaningful and that GCHC gave them and their families the chance to savor their last moments together in a center devoted to comfort and peace, located close to home."


P.S
This Sunday 2:30 p.m. the Howard County Historical Society  is hosting a program at the Miller Library "NEW THOUGHTS ON OLD THINGS: A Preliminary Reassessment of Howard County’s Historic Architecture PART 2 ”

 Join them for the second half of this very popular illustrated lecture and discussion about Howard County's historical architectural gems presented by Howard County's pre-eminent Architectural Historian, Ken Short. Free and open to the public but small donations are very much appreciated.

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