Hospice on San Juan Island
Posted October 31, 2016 at 5:49 am by Tim Dustrude
By Louise Dustrude
Facing the end of life, most people would prefer to die at home surrounded by their loved ones rather than in a hospital hooked up to modern-day machinery.
Hospice exists to help people make that choice.
The official Medicare-affiliated Hospice of the Northwest, in Mt. Vernon, can provide pain medication. It offers doctors and nurses, pastoral counseling if desired, and various therapies.
Medicare requires hospices to provide a volunteer component, but it’s obviously impractical for volunteers to come here from the mainland — perhaps for a one-hour visit — and so we have a second group here, Hospice of San Juan, comprised totally of volunteers.
There are currently 41 volunteers, not all available at all times of the year. The volunteers have the choice to accept a particular “case” or not for any reason.
They can provide caregiver respite, help with chores, education, various therapies, grief support, and a service called music and memory for patients with dementia. Some will walk dogs; others will bring their dogs to brighten the patient’s day. They may drive patients around the island or to medical appointments.
The two groups collaborate in many ways to help their clients; and both have durable medical equipment to lend.
THE WORD “HOSPICE” comes from the same root as “hospitality,” not “hospital,” according to Mariluz Villa, M.D., who heads up the local volunteer group.
Unfortunately, some patients can’t stay at home for one reason or another, and our local PeaceHealth Peace Island Hospital has a pleasant room set aside for hospice patients, but because of a bureaucratic glitch it can’t be used for that purpose.
A dying person on San Juan Island who needs to be hospitalized has to go to a mainland hospital, away from friends and family.
Villa has been trying to make it possible to use that room. She would even support changing our official Medicare hospice provider from Hospice of the Northwest, based in Mount Vernon, to Whatcom Hospice in Bellingham because it already has a “certificate of need” connected with St. Joseph’s Hospital, thus eliminating the bureaucratic problem.
In every other respect Villa is happy with the Mount Vernon group, and would be happy to stay affiliated with them if the hospital’s hospice room problem could be overcome.
THE BEST TIME to access Hospice is as soon as a person has been diagnosed. It offers “a great quality of life for people going through something that otherwise is challenging,” according to Villa.
It offers an opportunity for people to consider their values and assess what life goals they can still pursue. And it offers support to their families and care-givers at a very stressful time.
» Editor’s Note: Some residents of San Juan Island may have become more aware of the benefits of hospice recently when the woman who became a Facebook phenomenon under the title Driving Miss Norma came here as she neared the end of her life and entered the hospice program while living in her family’s motor home.
She had given herself a year of adventures by opting for a road trip instead of chemotherapy.
You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.