Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Peaceful End-of-Life Journey with the Help of Gilchrist Hospice Care

The first of our four aims is to be the healthcare system where everyone, every time, gets the very best possible health outcome.

And, while we are focused on restoring patients to health, we also recognize that sometimes this is not possible. When patients have life-ending illnesses, it’s comforting to know we have the experts at Gilchrist Hospice Care to guide them through and to be there to support their families.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and I’d like to recognize the excellent staff and volunteers at Gilchrist who are devoted to ensuring a peaceful and respectful end of life journey. Gilchrist Hospice Care is the largest hospice in Maryland and is repeatedly recognized nationally for its work. In fact, Gilchrist is often referred to as the platinum standard for hospice care.

To commemorate National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, I've asked Cathy Hamel, the Executive Director of Gilchrist Hospice Care, to talk about hospice and the vital role it plays in caring for patients:

Cathy says:

“Every day in the United States, 10,000 people turn 65. Seven out of every 10 Americans die from a chronic illness. A century ago, our ancestors, more often than not, died suddenly. But today, many of us have the good fortune to live longer thanks to the wonders of technology and advances in medical care.

We’re also more likely to suffer from one or more chronic illness at some point in our longer lives. As a result, we now have more choices in both life and death, and both studies and practice have shown that hospice is a wonderful alternative -- I would argue the best alternative -- for terminally-ill patients as they seek to balance quality of life vs. quantity of life. It is the former that is the focus of hospice.

If you ask most Americans to envision a "good death," they would tell you they prefer to die at home, surrounded by loved ones. Few wish to spend their last days in a hospital room, and even fewer in an intensive care unit, surrounded by machines. However, as a society, we tend to avoid conversations about death. We avoid planning for the day when we will need a feeding tube or assistance with breathing. We don't tell our family, our caregivers -- our doctors -- our wishes for care at the end of life. As a result, when those last weeks and days arrive, so many patients find themselves headed to the ICU, and more invasive, often futile treatment, against their better wishes.

Every November, during National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, we applaud those who have had what we call "courageous conversations" with their families and physicians and have created a game plan, of sorts, for their death. Every November, we encourage those individuals who haven't yet had these discussions to begin thinking and talking about their wishes for care when they are terminally ill. And every November, we recognize the teams of hospice workers -- physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, hospice aides, volunteers, bereavement counselors and support staff -- who are able to transform an emotionally-wrought time into a celebration of life for our families, and who are there to ensure that patients are able to approach the end of life in comfort and with dignity, surrounded by their loved ones.

At Gilchrist Hospice Care, our staff and volunteers understand that building relationships and memories with our patients and their loved ones is of the utmost importance. They understand that terminally-ill individuals still have life goals, even if time is fleeting, and they go above and beyond to help their patients achieve those goals. Gilchrist has earned its stellar reputation because of our commitment to providing individualized, compassionate care to each and every patient. The death of a loved one is a lifelong memory and we’re committed to making that memory as positive as we can.”

I sincerely thank Cathy and the entire team at Gilchrist Hospice Care for their devotion to making the end of life journey a peaceful and positive one for so many families throughout the years.  You can also read more about Hospice care and Cathy’s insights into end-of-life issues in The Gilchrist Blog.

Have you or a loved one been touched by the care of a hospice or palliative care team member? I’d love to hear your personal stories of exceptional care…


  1. Let’s not focus our energy and exemplary resources on emphasizing how we die – that’s not healthcare – that’s “deathcare” – to which a totally different industry is dedicated. If this country’s technological advancement and vast medical research can obtain one more day of life for all of humankind, then it truly makes us the greatest nation. We have a higher level of existence than the pets we take to the veterinarian to be put down because their “quality of life” is diminished. Our Creator takes pride in every single second of life we hang on to – for better or worse. There simply is no higher quality of life than that.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous. I think you missed the point. I agree that our duty is to work hard to maximize people's health. But we know that sometimes we cannot return people to their previous state of health and it is our duty to help them be comfortable. Evidence now shows that people in hospice with a terminal illness may actually live longer than those who do not enter hospice.


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