Hospice Home Celebrates First Year of Serving Families

Story by Angie Self

A man and his wife from the Arkansas River Valley hear the diagnosis from a doctor at a Little Rock hospital, but it just doesn’t seem possible. Their heads are in a fog — months, maybe weeks before one will die and the other is left alone. What will they do? How will they cope?

His bride of many years will need 24-hour care from trained medical professionals. Does he want to spend their last days together in a hospital, miles from their home? Then, the doctor mentions the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home in Russellville which is much closer to the house they have called home for so many years.

This is the best solution for the couple whose lives have been turned upside down. His wife will receive the help she needs to remain as comfortable as possible during her last days in a setting that is much like a home. He will be able to run home occasionally and check on the house, pick up a change of clothes and return to his wife’s side. Family that lives near will be able to visit more often and say their goodbyes.

Another couple receives similar news from a doctor in the area. However, the symptoms are such that care could be provided in their personal home if they had the house arranged and services in place and ready for him. The Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home can provide that transition setting and allow hospice staff time with the wife to educate her on coping with this end of life process. The couple stays in the hospice home for a week and then moves back home where her husband spends his last days, with the continued assistance of Arkansas Hospice Services.

During the month of November, National Hospice Month, Arkansas Hospice Services celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home at 220 John Babish Lane in western Russellville. The eight-bed facility has served 134 patients and their families during its first year of operation, says Rhonda Horton, program director.

“A year ago on November 4, I felt a great deal of excitement because we admitted our first patient and then a few others in the following days,” Horton recalls. “Before that, it had been a challenge just getting all the details of building a facility, meeting state standards and preparing to open the doors. It was just such a relief to actually be doing what we envisioned — taking care of those patients in the home.”

Horton said this past year has been great with lessons learned and growth opportunities and successes. Many families have told Arkansas Hospice that this home was what they needed. They were comfortable in the family atmosphere of the Arkansas River Valley Hospice Home while their loved one received care that couldn’t be managed at that particular time in the home setting.

One family member said, “The home was peaceful and beautiful. We appreciate your service in the community, and we don’t know what would have happened without your service and facility.”

Horton said she is amazed at how many people do not even know that the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home hospice home exists in Russellville.

“As much publicity that has been put out about the home during fund raising, the building process and this first year, some still don’t know we are here. That is why we are continuing to spread the word about our facility to the River Valley. It is a benefit that we want to provide when patients need it.”

Arkansas Hospice has been waiting several years for this home to become a reality and celebrated their first anniversary with a reception at Liberty Bank in November. The event honored the Capital Campaign Committee and all the donors who contributed to raise more than $2.5 million to make this home a reality. Russellville was chosen by Arkansas Hospice Services, headquartered in North Little Rock, to be the first location in its organization to have a free- standing hospice home. The other inpatient care facilities of the organization are located on campuses of health care facilities.

“I wouldn’t have made it through my mother’s death if it had not been for the love and care my family received from Arkansas Hospice,” a care giver wrote to the not-for- profit agency that has provided hospice services in the area for more than a decade.

“I wish hospice could be there for everyone who goes through the loss of a loved one. All the staff at the home made me feel as though they were part of my family. We loved everyone here.”

Another woman wrote, “My mother was in the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home. The staff always kept a smile on my mother’s face. They helped my family cope so we were comfortable with what was happening. We could not have asked for better people.”

The entire hospice team helps the families in many ways, says Misty Huddleston, manager of the hospice home for the past six months.

“Our chaplain and social workers are very involved as well as the rest of the staff,” she said, “Even our pharmacists help answer questions and try to make everyone feel comfortable with what is going on and at peace. Death is a natural process that we all have to face. We are here to help during this time.”

She added that the staff helps support each other because going through such a personal time with the patients and family can be hard on the staff as well. In turn, sometimes the families themselves help support each other.

“Because they go to the family room together where we have snacks and can sit and relax, families may become acquainted with another family that is going through a similar situation.They just start talking to each other and tell each other how they have dealt with certain issues. They really help each other cope and guide each other through it.”

Huddleston explained that a great number of the patients come to the home as transition patients from a local hospital or nursing facility into the hospice program. The patient may have received a terminal diagnosis at a local hospital, and the family is overwhelmed with how to cope in a home setting.

“They come to our facility for care of the loved one and education of the primary care giver to deal with the care at home,” she said. “The family may need to make changes to the living area in order to cope with the patient’s needs. This gives them that time to prepare. It may be something as simple as teaching the care giver turning techniques of the patient or how to operate an electrical bed.”

“They may only be here for a few days until we can help them come up with a good successful plan in their home environment, whether that is their home, a family member’s home or a nursing care facility. We are here for them and to help during this transition period.”

The inpatient care facility in Russellville (as well as centers located in Little Rock and Hot Springs) is designed to manage symptoms that are too difficult to manage at home. Many times these are short term stays where symptoms such as uncontrolled pain, nausea/vomiting or difficulty breathing are stabilized and then the patient returns to their private environment, Huddleston explained.

Arkansas Hospice Services’ program team that has been helping patients in the home- based program for years, Horton explained, includes physician consultants, registered nurse visits, home health aides, non- denominational spiritual support through a chaplain, social work services, bereavement services and volunteer support.

The hospice care team members are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist patients either in a private home, long term care facility or assisted living center. This past year, 323 patients have been served in the River Valley by Arkansas Hospice Services in the home- base program.

“Some people think that if they commit to hospice that they are giving up,” Horton said. “They may also think that hospice is just for the final days only. After they make the step to come into the program and realize it’s not about giving up but about making a decision to receive quality end-of- life care, they are really surprised. ‘I wish we had done this sooner’ is the most frequent comment we hear.”

Hospice is a benefit and a blessing for many, including those that work in the program, Horton said. More information about hospice or the new Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home may be obtained by calling the Russellville office at (888) 498-2050.  

 

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