World Hospice & Palliative Care Day Offers Opportunities to Reflect, Reach Out

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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Role of Hospice Social Worker is to Listen, Engage, Fulfill

For any social worker involved in hospice care, it’s all about meeting the needs of patients and their families. And that means listening intently and responding to clues that are both subtle and obvious.

“Just recently, I was sharing with a patient that they could tell me anything, because I’m there to listen and to serve, no matter the physical or emotional need,” says Britt Fischer, a medical social worker for Emmanuel Hospice. “I’m there to keep my ears and eyes open for anything, and if it’s a spiritual need or something else outside my realm, I’ll find the right person to address it.”

Fischer joined Emmanuel this year and brings nearly a decade of experience to the job tied to work she performed on behalf of adults with intellectual and developmental challenges.

“In hospice especially,” says Fischer, “it’s making sure folks have as many resources as possible as they make decisions about their final months and days. They may need assistance with exploring durable power of attorney and other legal questions. Maybe they’re at odds with a family member over final arrangements or have a strained relationship with a loved one. It could be any one of a number of concerns. It’s our job to help them and their family members sift through the options.”

According to Fischer, it’s important to honor the decisions a patient makes as they embark on what can be a difficult journey: “Sometimes it’s helping them deal with caregivers and friends and family. A veteran may have other concerns. And then there are people who don’t have a lot of support or others to lean on, and we become the last line of support.”

Sometimes, says Fischer, it’s a hard line to walk when the patient insists on one thing and a family member pushes for another. “We can get into some tough conversations, but the bottom line is to listen to all sides and respect those differing opinions in making those decisions for the patient.”

Fischer emphasizes that when a team approach is utilized – which is how Emmanuel provides its hospice care – it presents opportunities to cover all the bases: physical, emotional, spiritual and more. Social workers are especially attuned to anticipating the need for grief support, facilitating life reviews and educating patients and their loved ones about hospice care in a compassionate way.

It’s also important to attend to the details. “Maybe someone wants something as simple as an electric shaver. Or one more trip to the beach. To a social worker, job satisfaction is making those kinds of things happen for our people.”

The key, she says, is to establish and maintain open lines of communication with patients:  “That’s the best way to ensure the patient is served in every way.”

By definition, says Fischer, social work “is all about constantly learning while on the job, and it’s always changing, because you’re working with people as the center of your universe. You’re never going to be 100% prepared for every question or concern, but you learn how to adapt, how to try to make wishes come true.”

 

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Emmanuel Hospice Honored as One of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For

Emmanuel Hospice has again been named one of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For by the National Association for Business Resources.

The Best and Brightest Companies to Work For competition identifies and honors organizations that display a commitment to excellence in their human resource practices and employees. Organizations are assessed by an independent research firm based on categories such as communication, work-life blend, employee education and development, diversity, equity and inclusion, employee recognition, retention and more.

This is the third time Emmanuel Hospice has made the list of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. In 2020, the nonprofit provider of hospice care also received recognition on the national level.

“We are honored to again be recognized as one of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For with the best human resources practices,” Emmanuel Hospice Executive Director Sara Lowe said. “This honor reaffirms our efforts to ensure our entire team feels valued and supported with the same level of compassionate, person-centered care we provide for our patients.”

Since inception, Emmanuel’s team has gone from one part-time employee serving its first patient in 2013 to more than 90 team members today who care for 170 patients daily in eight West Michigan counties. So far in 2022, the team has continued to grow with more than 20 new employees.

As part of the application process, the organization highlighted human resource practices such as targeting compensation in the 75th percentile for the geographic area and industry, encouraging vital behaviors for positive interactions internally and with patients and their families, the total amount the organization spends on benefits as a percentage of operating income and the in-depth hiring process used to select the right candidates.

Emmanuel Hospice also shared its ongoing training to create a culture of anti-racism, its Employee Relief Fund where staff could access additional financial assistance and other employee-focused benefits, such as one-on-one self-care coaching and a partnership with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services through an employee assistance program.

In 2021, Emmanuel Hospice expanded the use of its bereavement policy to allow for self-care days for staff, enabling employees to take a day off on short notice. These days are separate from paid time off, to focus on their personal well-being. Additionally, the organization conducted “stay interviews” with all team members to discover what they love about working at Emmanuel Hospice and how the nonprofit can better serve them in a changing workforce.

For employee enrichment efforts, Emmanuel Hospice shared the work of its “Fun Committee,” a group of staff from different disciplines who meet monthly to plan employee activities, such as the annual chili cook-off, celebration of quirky holidays (i.e. assorted pickles in the breakroom for National Pickle Day), and coordinate cards/gifts for staff milestones.

Emmanuel Hospice also utilizes an online employee engagement platform called Motivosity. Each employee gets $5 per month to give in the form of “kudos” to other employees. They can send a shout-out to another employee based on one of the nonprofit’s values and attach a dollar to their kudos. Employees then redeem the dollars they’ve received in the form of gift cards to many different restaurants and stores. Work anniversaries, new staff and upcoming activities are also celebrated on the platform, which functions like an internal social media platform for the organization.

“In the past year, we have continued our commitment to doing right by our staff, and we’re honored to earn this distinction once again,” said Matt Schipper, director of support services. “By providing new opportunities for our staff to engage in self-care, build community and offer feedback, we aim to cultivate an environment where everyone can thrive.

“We also know that in taking care of our staff, we empower them to provide the highest quality of care to our patients and families.”

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 www.emmanuelhospice.org.

 

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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 EmmanuelHospice.org or call 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice Reaccredited by CHAP

Grand Rapids, Michigan, Aug. 2, 2022– Emmanuel Hospice has earned reaccreditation from the Community Health Accreditation Program, Inc., a nationally approved accrediting body for home and community-based health care organizations, for upholding industry best practices and providing quality patient care.

The CHAP accreditation renewal demonstrates that Emmanuel Hospice meets the highest nationally recognized regulations and standards for the health care industry. Emmanuel Hospice was awarded the renewal due to its focus on structure and function, quality of services and products, human and financial resources and long-term viability.

“We often meet people at some of the most difficult times in their lives, and our goal is to support patients and their loved ones by providing exceptional care,” said Emmanuel Hospice Executive Director Sara Lowe. “This independent, third-party validation from CHAP confirms our commitment to meeting the highest standards for hospice care.”

Emmanuel Hospice received CHAP accreditation in 2014 after its first year of operation and has been reaccredited every year since. Its new accreditation is valid through September 2025. CHAP certification also certifies Emmanuel Hospice as a Medicare provider.

“By achieving CHAP accreditation, Emmanuel Hospice has shown a commitment to excellence,” said CHAP President and CEO Nathan DeGodt. “This is the third time Emmanuel Hospice has achieved CHAP accreditation, and we are excited to continue our partnership by offering support in its commitment to providing quality care and continuous improvement.”

CHAP is the oldest national, independent accrediting body for home and community health care organizations that determines if hospice agencies meet the Medicare Conditions of Participation and CMS Quality Standards.

In 2021, Emmanuel Hospice cared for more than 650 patients and served 1,600-plus individuals through its grief support team. The organization also had 90 patients participate in We Honor Veterans programs, where Emmanuel Hospice is now a level three partner, and provided 20 Art Legacy sessions, allowing patients to create and leave behind meaningful artwork for their loved ones.

 

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 EmmanuelHospice.org.