For caregivers and survivors left in the wake of some six million who died during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s more than grief and anxiety to consider.
That’s the message from organizers of World Hospice & Palliative Care Day, celebrated this Oct. 8 to commemorate and support hospice and palliative care around the world with one voice advocating quality of life and equitable healthcare for all.
It’s also an opportunity to help people understand the difference between hospice care and palliative care, emphasizes Michele Siegel, a social worker for Emmanuel Hospice.
“A lot of people group the two together, but there are distinct differences,” she points out. “The biggest one is that with palliative care, you typically don’t have a life expectancy of six months or less to qualify for symptom management.”
At Emmanuel and other hospices, the primary emphasis is on providing holistic care and support for someone seeking to live as pain-free and alert as possible throughout a serious illness. Medications, equipment, supplies and care relate to pain and symptom relief.
That contrasts markedly from palliative care, where the patient is likely still fighting their illness and continues employing strategies tied to the prospect of cures.
“Does hospice provide palliative care?” Siegel poses. “In a sense, yes. We provide palliative care in the sense that our goal is to provide comfort and care. But with hospice, you also have a terminal diagnosis, and so you’re not seeking curative treatments.”
Sometimes, people suffering from the same maladies can be receiving either hospice or palliative care. They often include those diagnosed with cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. The care they choose to receive determines whether they’re receiving palliative or hospice care. If they’re fighting their condition with therapies or clinical trials or other options designed to sustain life, that’s palliative care. If they’re mostly managing pain and symptoms and focused on “making the best of the time you have left,” says Siegel, that’s subscribing to hospice care.
According to Siegel, it’s important to rely on healthcare workers you trust – as well as friends or family members who may be serving as caregivers – to both understand and act on options available. In either case, she says, it’s important to find someone who wants to “coach but not force” decisions affecting care.
The organization supporting World Hospice & Palliative Care Day – online at theWHPCA.org – offers a digital toolkit on its website to help inform and educate those interested in the annual observance.
Siegel applauds such measures, noting that individual hospice care providers like Emmanuel also go to great means to educate people on who they are, what they stand for and the services they provide.
“We’re always just a click or a phone call away, and eager to inform people wondering about their options,” she says. “It’s not always easy wading through all the information available. We’re here to help with that.”
For more information, visit EmmanuelHospice.org or call 616.719.0919.
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