When’s the Right Time to Ask about Hospice?

by Roxanne Smedsrud, RN, CHPN

It’s a Common Situation
One afternoon I was visiting with my friend, Valerie, and she began telling me about her grandpa, George, who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer at age 94. He lived in a nursing home in Fargo, but the last year found him in and out of the hospital on several occasions. Valerie talked about the toll hospital stays and moving from place to place took on George. Her mom was also exhausted from taking him to continuous doctor appointments and tests.

With a feeling helplessness in her voice, Valerie said she didn’t know what she could do to make the situation better for either of them. I asked her if anyone talked with her or her family about hospice, and Valerie said she often wondered about hospice, but since hospital and nursing home staff never broached the subject, she thought her grandpa wasn’t quite ready.

You’re Not Alone
As I listened, I couldn’t help but think of how many other families might be struggling with the same issues related to the decline of a loved one. The same people, like Valerie, who were waiting for a doctor or nurse to start the discussion about hospice.

Valerie expressed her hesitation with being the person to start the hospice conversation in her family. Would her family think she was giving up on grandpa? As for Valerie, she didn’t want to give up, but she also didn’t know the next step.

I gently explained to her that hospice care does not mean you’re giving up, rather, it means comfort and quality of life for a loved one by allowing the person to live their last days in their home—wherever that may be—surrounded by their loved ones and caregivers.

A Change of Heart
After our conversation, Valerie talked with her mom and the rest of the family about hospice care for George. Everyone agreed they wanted to learn more about hospice services, and the next morning a hospice nurse met with Valerie and her mom at the nursing home. Later in the day, Hospice of the Red River Valley admitted George to receive hospice care.

He was only on service for slightly more than two weeks when he died peacefully and comfortably, surrounded by his family. Even though he only received hospice care for a few days, it was easy to see the benefit Hospice provided, not only to George, but also to his family. Imagine the additional cares George could have received if Hospice was involved for the last six months of his life, instead of the just final weeks.

The family felt such a sense of relief that their beloved George didn’t have to spend anymore time in the hospital. Hospice, in collaboration with the nursing home staff, provided everything George needed at the nursing home, making the experience smoother for both George and his family. The combination of nursing home long-term care experts and Hospice of the Red River Valley end-of-life care experts meant George received high-quality comfort care while he spent his last days with his loved ones at his side.

Looking Back
I didn’t see Valerie until a couple of months after her grandpa’s funeral. When we did connect, she expressed her thankfulness for all the wonderful care her grandpa received from Hospice of the Red River Valley. Her only regret was not unlike what we hear from so many of our patients’ families … “I wish we would have known about Hospice sooner so we could have taken full advantage of the care and support they offer.”

If You’re Not Sure, Ask
So, when someone asks me, “When is the best time to ask about hospice?” I say, the sooner the better. Our staff visits with families at any time, free of charge and obligation—even if you’re unsure it’s the right time for hospice care for you or your loved one. You might be surprised by the peace of mind an upfront conversation about end-of-life wishes can offer, not just for the patient but also for the patient’s loved ones. If you have questions about hospice care, reach out to Hospice of the Red River Valley or ask your doctor. Understanding the options will allow you to make the best informed decision about your or your loved one’s end-of-life care.

Editor’s note: Names have been changed in the story to respect privacy.

Roxanne Smedsrud, RN, was a hospice nurse for 28 years with Hospice of the Red River Valley.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.


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