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Davis Journal

Hospice brings comfort and dignity to near-end-of-life patients

May 06, 2021 11:00AM ● By Jackie Kartchner

Story volunteer Wayne Kartchner, shares a story with hospice patient Orval Hayes. Photo by Jackie Kartchner

Hospice is a program in which patients are given comfort care rather than not curative care as they approach end of life. Death is not hastened in the process as some people may think. The focus of hospice is to improve the quality of a patient’s remaining days versus the quantity of those days.

Tracy Ruiz, director of volunteers for Community Services (CNS) explained that patients qualify for hospice when they receive a terminal diagnosis from a doctor and are expected to live six months or less from time of diagnosis. They can also choose this route if they decide to not fight an illness, such as cancer. Two doctors need to sign a form to bring them on, their primary care physician and the hospice medical director. Both care for the patient, unless the primary care doctor decides to just release care to the medical director. In this case, the director takes on both roles.

Hospice involves a variety of medical personnel who are each dedicated to ensuring that the patient receives the most appropriate care for their situation. Professionals who might be on the hospice team include one or both doctors, a social worker, a chaplain, nurses, and certified nursing assistants (CNA). Trained hospice volunteers are often involved in providing respite care and company to the ailing patient. Ruiz said that there is also, “what we call fluff care.” This is care and comfort provided by other experts in fields such as aromatherapy, massage therapy, music therapy, and Reiki. Control is given to the patients on who they want to have come into their home, but they must agree to allow a nurse in at least every two weeks.

Though the focus of hospice care is escorting a patient toward the end of life, Ruiz said that the patient’s condition can improve. They are evaluated periodically for certification to see if hospice remains appropriate for them. 

“Some people as we say, ‘graduate’ from hospice,” she said. 

The concept of hospice has been around forever, but it came to the United States in the 1970s by way of Dr. Cicely Saunders, with the help of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Interest in this country grew when Saunders gave a talk at Yale University in the 1950s. Then in 1986, Medicare decided to pay for hospice care as a way of cutting back on the expense of extensive hospitalizations for patients. “This is when it was born,” said Ruiz.

Some patients have lived for a couple of years on the program.

One long-term hospice patient is Orval Hayes, who lives in Centerville. He came on after falling and breaking his foot. It never healed, so he could no longer walk. He now has colon cancer and has been confined to bed for a year and a half. However, it has been 22 years since the first of many hospitalizations for various conditions.

Hayes was born in Salt Lake City in 1944 and has spent much of his adult years doing cement and brick work. He was able to build his own home with his skills. He worked for Bountiful City for 10 years and then for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 30 years as a Facilities Manager.

Hayes said he is grateful for the CNA team. “I don’t know what I would do without them. I love my nurses. They are the heartbeat of the world.” Whenever he needs them, they come right away.

Hayes said hospice helps take the stress off of his wife too. “The stress has been harder and a bigger stress on her than on me.” 

He loves his wife, and affirms that often. He even has a sign above his garage that says, “I Love My Wife.”

They met when she was taking her child to his sister’s house for childcare. He helped her carry in a crib. She was impressed by his love for her child. Now, they are parents to four children and grandparents to 11.

Hayes try to stay positive despite his condition. “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”