Knowing When to Call Hospice Can Be a Game-Changer

It’s sometimes easier to define what hospice is not rather than trying to absorb all the things it is – especially in assessing when one should reach out.

“A common misconception is that we’re available only at the eleventh hour, or just days or weeks before someone passes,” says Dana Shelton-Clark, an admissions social worker with Emmanuel Hospice. “But hospice care is really holistic support for anyone who’s been given a physician’s prognosis of six or fewer months to live. And that’s only a requirement for admission.

“There’s no ticking clock, no time limit for the amount of time the hospice benefit can be used as long as someone remains eligible.”

What Shelton-Clark and her colleagues too often hear from patients and their caregivers is this: We wish we would have called sooner.

Dealing with an approaching death can be understandably trying, to say the least. At Emmanuel Hospice, says Shelton-Clark, a team approach is instituted to rally around the loved one and care for them in mind, body and spirit. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, either. Instead, care and options are customized to consider each individual’s wants and needs.

“We often get comments such as ‘I didn’t know this is what hospice is’ and ‘I didn’t know hospice could provide this,’” she explains. “All it really takes is a phone call to set up a meeting that will provide a clear and accurate window into all the services hospice offers.”

Shelton-Clark notes some people put off calling hospice because they’re being counseled by medical personnel still fighting for a cure.

“We understand that,” she says, “because most doctors are trained in an approach to do all they can to ‘fix’ the problem. But cures are not always possible, and hospice is a treatment option that should be offered and considered.

“Our focus is to instead provide interventions that relieve symptoms and allow patients to focus on how they really want to live, so that they have as many good days and months as possible.”

Shelton-Clark emphasizes hospice will come to wherever it is the loved one calls home – their own house, or a relative’s, or an assisted living facility or memory care unit. During a first discussion, there’s never any obligation to sign on or take next steps. That’s up to the individual and their caregivers. But sometimes, just that initial meeting is enough to help people understand their options going forward.

Some people actually improve during hospice care, in some cases enough to no longer require services. But they’re free to return if they decline to a point where they again meet eligibility standards; there are never any deadlines imposed.

Shelton-Clark acknowledges that the role of Emmanuel Hospice is as much to provide education as it is to provide care – doing all it can to acquaint people with what hospice is and why it’s better to reach out earlier than later.

“There are so many ways for us to assist,” she says, “especially for that person who’s been in and out of the hospital and is ready for that revolving door to finally stop. That’s the time to give us a call and learn more.

“Our compassionate and experienced team is ready to answer any questions you may have.”

For more information, visit or call 616.719.0919.

Cardiac Program Provides Better Quality of Life, Control Over Care

Despite frequent doctor, ER and hospital visits for those with end-stage heart disease, many eligible patients don’t receive palliative or hospice care to improve their quality of life – but Emmanuel Hospice wants to change that.

Hospice professionals like Melissa Schmidt are working to help more patients with advanced congestive heart failure access the enhanced care they deserve.

“Even though heart disease is the nation’s top cause of death, hundreds of thousands of patients with heart failure die alone in hospitals, never utilizing end-of-life care and support,” says Schmidt, who serves as Emmanuel Hospice’s director of clinical services. “Hospice care can help manage or even prevent symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease and keep patients out of the hospital.

“This not only puts patients and families in better control over their care, it also saves money and reduces the stress of repeated hospitalizations.”

At Emmanuel, care is provided to patients wherever they call home. With the nonprofit’s Heart & Soul Advanced Cardiac Care Program, patients have access to a robust care team – nurses, physicians, spiritual caregivers and complementary therapists, all of whom are specially trained in heart failure and in collaborating with outside care providers.

Made possible through the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation, or NPHI, Heart & Soul relies on care guidelines developed by the American Heart Association for individuals living with end-stage heart disease.

“Our advanced cardiac care program enables patients to be cared for in a way that works alongside their diagnosis,” Schmidt explains. “We’re able to look at innovative ways to care for patients in collaboration with their cardiologists or other physicians to support the whole person – mind, body and soul.”

Among the unique ways Emmanuel Hospice can support people living with advanced cardiac disease are its complementary services, which can be used alongside pharmaceutical approaches or as alternatives for holistic end-of-life care. In particular, music and massage therapy have proven to be successful in the management of symptoms for Heart & Soul patients.

For example, Emmanuel Hospice’s music therapists aid in anxiety relief for patients living with heart disease through music-assisted relaxation to influence heart rate, enhance breathing and support management of stress.

The use of massage therapy can help reduce painful swelling of feet, ankles and legs that comes with end-stage heart disease. For one of Schmidt’s patients, this service helped avoid an increase in medication, enabling him to remain comfortably at home until his death.

The additional support and education hospice can provide is ideal for patients who wish to avoid repeated trips to the emergency room. According to NPHI, advanced cardiac care programs like Emmanuel’s have already helped lower hospitalization rates in the last year by 23% for patients during their last 30 days of life. Patients who are a part of these programs visit the ER nearly half as much as those not receiving hospice care.

“The decrease in emergency rates is remarkable because patients with heart failure are known to need frequent visits to the doctor’s office, emergency room and hospital due to breathing difficulties, fatigue and other worsening symptoms,” Schmidt says. “Reducing inpatient and emergency services reduces stress, which can improve both mental and physical health outcomes.”

Avoiding trips to the ER or hospital also helps save patients money. The average cost of care in NPHI advanced cardiac care programs is 20-35% lower for patients than those who aren’t in hospice care.

While this is promising data, Schmidt says there’s more work to be done in overcoming myths about hospice care and encouraging families and caregivers to reach out sooner to seek this invaluable service.

“Many people think that hospice is just for your last couple of days or weeks or that calling hospice means giving up,” she says. “Hospice is holistic care and support for people who have been given a physician prognosis of six months or less to live and want to maximize that time.

“We want to help these individuals and families know it is absolutely OK to utilize hospice to supplement other medical care that’s already being provided. Our entire team is trained and ready to walk alongside you with individualized care for your end-of-life journey.”

To learn more about Heart & Soul, individuals can visit or

call 616.719.0919.

Navigating Grief Around Father’s Day with Planning, Support and Connection

People Attending Self Help Therapy Group Meeting In Community Center

In our commercial world, we’re subjected to displays of gifts, candy and cards for weeks ahead of a holiday. With technology today, there are even targeted ads on our phones and social media platforms that show us memories from past celebrations.

For someone struggling with grief, these aren’t always friendly cues to prepare for the holiday. They can be triggering reminders of how a loved one isn’t here anymore.

“We know significant dates like anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be a challenge for those grieving the loss of an important person in their life,” says Merrin Bethel, a bereavement coordinator with Emmanuel Hospice. “Holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be especially difficult after the loss of a parent.”

Parents are often the first to love and care for all of us. It can be painful mourning that unique relationship with someone who has known you since you came into the world. Around days dedicated to honoring parents, there can be multiple, conflicting emotions.

“You may be angry at the world for celebrating a day that highlights just how much the person you love is missing from the picture, all while wanting to be a part of the laughter and joy around you,” Ashley Huisman, another Emmanuel Hospice bereavement coordinator, explains. “Remember it is OK to feel more than one thing at once and none of these feelings are wrong. Give yourself the space to ride the roller coaster of emotions the day may bring.”

Quite often the anticipation of the day can be worse than the day itself. To help prevent anxiety, Huisman recommends making a plan A, B and C – or as many as you need – to find a sense of peace that whatever happens, you’ll be ready.

“Take a good inventory of yourself, your emotions and what you need out of the day,” Huisman says. “Maybe plan A is to be with friends and family, sharing memories and participating in planned activities. Maybe plan B is leaving the gathering early or skipping a part of the day all together because being with others may be a bit overwhelming.”

Acknowledging the day with a remembrance activity is another healthy way to cope.

“It’s common for people to wonder if the holiday should even be celebrated or observed after the loss of a loved one and what that should look like,” Bethel adds. “We invite people to do whatever feels best for their family.

“It’s great if you want to get birthday cake on your dad’s birthday or go out to dad’s favorite restaurant on Father’s Day. It’s healthy to continue finding ways to stay connected with a person we’ve lost.”

After the loss of a loved one, it’s also important to find support in family, friends and sometimes even the help of a professional to navigate what you’re experiencing.
“If possible, find a friend or other supportive person you can talk to honestly about the day,” Huisman says. “Let them know when you are having a hard moment or when you want to share a memory. Remember, you are not alone.”
For more information on coping with grief, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting topical three-session workshops through end of August. Held at 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids, the in-person grief support events are free and open to anyone in the community regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit or hospice care.

The organization also provides individual support to anyone who has suffered a loss. For more information or to RSVP for a workshop or group, email or call 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice Launches Art Legacy Program, Expanding Complementary Service Offerings to Enhance Patient Care

Grand Rapids, MI

Emmanuel Hospice has launched an Art Legacy program that gives patients the opportunity to create and leave behind legacy artwork for their loved ones.

The new program is designed to engage patients by encouraging self-expression while assisting in symptom management, supporting memories and providing connection between the patient, their loved ones and care team. It utilizes a variety of materials and the support of staff and volunteers who serve as Art Legacy facilitators to give patients the opportunity to make art or do a craft project.

Art Legacy further expands the nonprofit’s portfolio of complementary services, which can be used alongside pharmaceutical approaches or as alternatives for holistic end-of-life care. In addition to the art program, Emmanuel Hospice offers music and massage therapy, essential oils, pet visitors, virtual reality, companionship and journaling sessions, as well as acupuncture and acupressure.

“It’s important to us to provide our patients with a variety of options that engage the senses and create unique, joyful memories,” said Joan Blessings, a licensed massage therapist and Emmanuel Hospice complementary therapy team lead for Emmanuel Hospice. “Art Legacy is one more way we are able to enhance the patient experience. It differs from our other complementary offerings in that most of those services are something that the patient or loved ones are receiving rather than creating.

“Art Legacy really involves our patients in hands-on, enriching activities that improve their quality of life through self-expression, symptom management and more.”

Like all of Emmanuel’s services, Art Legacy is available for patients receiving hospice care wherever they are, whether that be at a facility or in their home. To participate in the program, patients are first referred by their hospice care team upon learning of a patient’s interest in art.

Art Legacy facilitators then work to learn more from the patient and their loved ones about their interests. They brainstorm ideas and gather materials into an Art Legacy kit to offer patients a tailored experience. Kits may include items such as paint, markers, colored pencils, air dry clay, yarn and felt, to name a few.

No matter their physical or mental health, all patients are able to take part in Art Legacy activities, which are tailored to their individual abilities. These activities help in managing symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness or boredom, as well as with mood regulation and coping. This is especially true for patients who are experiencing cognitive declines such as with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“Art has a way of working different parts of the brain and bringing up different memories for patients,” Blessings said. “I’ve also noticed it helps reduce overall physical tension in patients. As they create, their breathing can get easier, their shoulders relax, they laugh and smile more – it’s amazing to see the impact art can have.”

In addition to giving patients the opportunity to create and express themselves in unique ways, the program also provides an opportunity to make a hand mold with or for their loved ones as a legacy piece. A meaningful and tangible artifact, a hand mold can be of the patient’s hand alone or to commemorate a relationship by creating a cast while holding hands.

For patients who are more isolated, Art Legacy not only provides a way to engage with something but also someone. Patients enjoy the comfort of companionship that is included with a session through an Art Legacy facilitator. Whether it be a staff member or trained volunteer, facilitators offer a compassionate presence and help create a comfortable, safe space for patients to express themselves.

Individuals who are interested in volunteering as an Art Legacy facilitator are invited to visit or contact Volunteer Coordinator Jackie Chandler at or 616.719.0919 for more information. No experience in art is needed.

In addition to volunteers, Emmanuel Hospice is able to provide its complementary services, which are not covered by traditional insurances, to patients through the support of donations.

“We are blessed by amazing sponsors and donors to be able to expand the boundaries of care with life-enhancing experiences that support the whole person – spiritually, emotionally and physically,” Blessings said. “Programs like Art Legacy are invaluable for our patients and their loved ones, and it would not be possible to offer these services without the generosity of our community.”

To donate to Emmanuel Hospice to ensure families throughout West Michigan will receive quality holistic care without the worry of out-of-pocket expenses, visit

About Emmanuel Hospice
Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit

Education is Critical to Understanding Hospice Options

A wise philosopher once said, “Education is the ability to meet life’s situations.”

That’s especially applicable to understanding all the options offered by a hospice organization, according to Jennifer Radaz, education manager at Emmanuel Hospice.

“As we make contacts, we’re constantly assessing a person’s educational needs when it comes to hospice,” she says. “One of our main goals is to inform, and help patients and caregivers understand the scope of our services and how we operate.”

Radaz says that often means countering misconceptions about hospice care, including the mistaken notion that you must necessarily be within your last hours or days to receive services

“As a result, we see a lot of late referrals, where people have been ill for some time and were unaware they could have had all of our services a long time beforehand,” Radaz notes. “The longer hospice is able to develop a relationship with a patient and their family, the better we can care and prepare them both for what lies ahead.”

Radaz points to critically ill cardiac patients in particular, noting that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, and yet those suffering from heart disease typically wait too long to summon hospice for assistance. They sometimes receive only a few days’ care when, in reality, they qualified for hospice and could have taken advantage of hospice services for weeks or even months prior to their deaths.

Another misconception that Emmanuel seeks to address is that a hospice takes over with a plan of their own.

“We do not come in with an agenda,” Radaz explains. “Rather, we’re there to work with family and other caregivers, eager to know what matters to them, and how we can best address their needs. We don’t offer a one-size-fits-all.”

Emmanuel also strives to educate people that their brand of hospice care is funded by Medicare and private donations to support programs, like complementary therapies. This enables Emmanuel to provide core nursing, pain management, grief support and related services, as well as complementary therapies that bring music, massage, art and much more to the bedside.

“We want to approach people on multiple levels for their pain and management,” Radaz says, “and part of that is providing those soothing human touches that aren’t addressed by conventional medicine.”

Educating the public doesn’t stop at patients and caregivers, she emphasizes. Emmanuel, for instance, is constantly seeking ways to make connections with communities of caregivers that includes doctors, nurses and social workers. In fact, much of what they offer in a formal setting will count toward continuing education hours for health professionals.

Additionally, Emmanuel often delivers presentations at businesses, organizations, colleges and universities and professional conferences to promote better understanding of hospice and its benefits. The nonprofit also reaches out to retirement communities and medical facilities, continually exploring new ways to share its mission, philosophy and array of services with those who need it most.

“We believe that information is key,” Radaz explains, “and that it’s wonderful to be informed. We’re happy to provide that information in whatever setting is comfortable for that person. And there’s never any obligation. Sometimes, people aren’t ready to sign on for hospice; they just want to understand their options going forward.

“We’re happy to simply establish a relationship. As changes occur, we can step in, but only when that door is open to us. In the meantime, we’re happy to have those conversations.”