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Raising Awareness About Hospice Care (Kimberlee Shaffer Kirkman Commentary)

3 min read

As Westerners, we often push away end-of-life planning for another day and feel paralyzed when forced into that situation for ourselves or a loved one.

In February, former President Jimmy Carter’s family announced that he was entering hospice care. Most Americans likely expected the final news of his passing to be reported a day or two later. As Carter and his family celebrated his 99th birthday on Oct. 1, they were still experiencing hospice care.

Instead of viewing hospice care as only for the final days or hours of life, we should consider the quality of life for the patient and how the hospice team can provide emotional and spiritual care for the patient, caregiver and family for weeks or months. This extended period of care for Carter is a hospice benefit covered by Medicare and Medicaid and is for anyone who meets the medical criteria, not special treatment for a former president and his family.

The Arkansas Hospice Family of Care is built upon enhancing the quality of life for those facing serious illness and loss by surrounding them with love and embracing them with the best physical, emotional and spiritual care. Family members repeatedly tell us that they were at wit’s end when their loved one entered hospice and immediately felt relief when the care team came in. As a patient’s wife shared, “My husband eventually fell into the graceful embrace of Arkansas Hospice when treatment stopped working. [Arkansas] Hospice allowed him to do things he loved peacefully and spend time with the people he loved most.”

We want our loved ones to have life to the fullest, whatever that looks like each season. Hospice care is an interdisciplinary approach to living life to the fullest and optimizing the quality of life among people with life-limiting illnesses.

The Arkansas Hospice Foundation operates to support Arkansas Hospice, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of care, by funding needs that are not covered under Medicare reimbursement or other traditional means. Our daily census of more than 660 patients has a variety of nonmedical needs, from help buying groceries when the breadwinning patient or caregiver cannot work to repairs needed for transportation to granting the wish of a 12-year-old patient to spend the day enjoying an amusement park with her family.

Our mission does not end when our patients die. We continue to offer grief support for 13 months or longer for those who have experienced loss. The co-founders of Arkansas Hospice, Michael V. Aureli and Dee Brazil-Dale, believed these services should be available to anyone with a need regardless of whether their loved one was a patient of Arkansas Hospice; our grief support services are available to the entire community.

Ironically, Medicare regulations require hospice organizations to provide bereavement services without reimbursement for care. As a nonprofit, Arkansas Hospice must maintain a positive operating margin to fulfill our mission, and funding to support bereavement services is about $1 million annually. The Arkansas Hospice Foundation supports the organization’s mission through donor support and grant funding.

Hospice can and should be viewed as a comfort and a gift to loved ones facing the final season of their life. Thank you, President Carter. In your final season, you are leaving a legacy of raising awareness for the benefit of hospice care.

Kim Shaffer Kirkman is the vice president and chief philanthropy officer at Arkansas Hospice Foundation, arkansashospice.org.
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