The stained-glass window marking the entrance to the Hospice Unit is dark at St. Joseph Hospital, but officials are hopeful of making it glow again in a few months.
The dedicated unit was closed in May in the midst of cutbacks at the financially struggling hospital, but St. Joseph Hospice has continued to provide outpatient service to an average of about 95 patients a day and offers inpatient service in other areas of the hospital.
"We didn't walk away from inpatient hospice service; we just did it in a different fashion," said interim Chief Executive Officer Andrew Lasser.
Officials hope to reopen the seven-bed unit and reunite its specially trained staff Nov. 1. Medicare reimbursements and regulations in recent years have made it more difficult for hospice programs, and together with consolidation have led to a leveling off in the number of hospice and palliative care programs at around 3,100 nationwide, said Angela Thimis, director of communications for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Even when the unit returns, it will not be a lucrative one for the hospital, Dr. Lasser said.
"It's at best a break-even proposition," Dr. Lasser said.
"I really see it as a community service," said Tara Kattine, medical director for St. Joseph Hospice.
In fact, there was an outcry from the community from many who mistakenly believed St. Joseph was no longer offering hospice, Dr. Lasser said. Hospice is for those with a prognosis of six months or less to live. Eighty percent of those people want to die at home with their families, Dr. Kattine said. The dedicated unit would serve those who don't want to die at home, those whose symptoms or pain couldn't be controlled at home or those whose care-givers become exhausted and need someone else to take over for a few days, Dr. Kattine said. The unit has family rooms connected to patient rooms so families can stay with patients without crowding them. The unit also has a specialized staff of nurses, chaplains, social workers, aides and volunteers, Dr. Kattine said.
"If you're placed on the inpatient hospice unit, you have people who are dedicated and skilled in the care of the dying. And they don't just address the needs of the patient, they address the needs of the family," Dr. Kattine said. "Almost everybody has had some experience with a loss that has led them down this path, where they see the needs of people and their families when they're coming face to face with death and somehow make that transition for them peaceful and easier. It's never easy."
St. Joseph officials also are hoping a PBS series by veteran journalist Bill Moyers called On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying beginning Sunday will prompt people to begin discussing end-of-life issues and how they would choose to be cared for.
"It's a very personal thing, and people want what happens to them to be their choice," Dr. Kattine said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.
For more information on St. Joseph Hospice, call (706) 729-6000. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers information on hospice and end-of-life issues through a toll-free help line, (800) 658-8898.
PBS will offer a four-part series next week by veteran journalist Bill Moyers called On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying. It will air at 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday on Georgia Public Television and South Carolina ETV.