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My Turn: End-of-life care a tough but necessary conversation

The Arizona Republic
November 12, 2016
By Debbie Shumway

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care month—a time for people to enhance their understanding of end-of-life care and to encourage conversations around that topic.

For many families, it’s a tough subject to discuss.

Here’s the good news: by shifting the focus to how you want to live, the weight can be lightened. Hospice and palliative care are about quality of life, making the best of each day, even during the sad and challenging times that chronic and serious illness brings.

The best time to have these family conversations is now. Start by planning ahead for what kind of medical care you would want—or not want—if you were not able to express your wishes.

Record your wishes in documents known as advance directives—living wills and medical power of attorney forms. Choose someone as your medical power of attorney who will have the conviction to make sure your wishes are followed.

Also talk about hospice care. Most deaths in Arizona that aren’t sudden deaths involve hospice care. In fact our state has one of the highest hospice utilization rates in the country, according to federal statistics. Hospice services are covered by Medicare and most insurance companies.

Hospice teams come to the patient’s home or wherever they live—a group home or assisted living facility—and provide medical, social, spiritual and emotional support. The approach is holistic, offering comfort in all realms and treating the patient and family as one. Palliative care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness. Improving quality of life is the goal of palliative care and hospice.

Consumers have the right to choose their hospice provider. Ask questions about programs and services and the organization’s years of service to the community. Make sure you have 24/7/365 telephone access to a nurse should needs arise at off-times.

Hospice of the Valley is a not-for-profit hospice founded nearly 40 years ago. I invite you to contact us with your questions at any time—602.530.6900 or hov.org. We are here for you.

Debbie Shumway is executive director of Hospice of the Valley.