Hospice Care of the Lowcountry
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Pictured above, Top from left to right:
Lynne Irvine, Linda Jeney, Anna Painter, Lindsay Daly, Jan Geraghty, Barbara Lawrence, Jenny Brasington, Bill Broad, Sandy Mecca, Barb Schmidt, Janet Tomlinson, Dave Teschner, Thelma Noble, Mike Kristoff, Sandy Ploszaj, Chrissena Cohen, Heather Hicks, Ronnie Knapp, Maggie Clark, Bob Gregory, Kendell Brinkmann, Bea Fuller, Syndi Perry, Debi Malool, Mary Scovel, John Spisak, Lois Liptak, MaryAnne Richardson, Ward Scovel
November is National Hospice Month. Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s executive director, Jenny Brasington, and director of community relations, Darlene Schuetz want to celebrate by clearing up some common misconceptions about what hospice is and what their people do. Here’s a hint: stop thinking about hospice care in terms of death, and start thinking about it in terms of life.
“Probably the biggest one (misconception) is that we enhance death,” said Brasington, “which we do not. What we do is go into a patient’s home, somebody who is terminally ill, per a doctor’s order, and find out what they need, what they want, for the last stage of their life.”
Those needs and wants may include things like physical care and pain and symptom management for the patient, but hospice care’s focus is not entirely limited to the patient. “What does the family need? We treat the patient and the family as a single unit, because it’s not only about the patient. It’s about the family,” said Brasington. “How can we help them physically, emotionally and spiritually?”
As luck would have it, just as the ladies and I were speaking about the family element, one Mrs. Nancy O’Connell happened by our table. Nancy’s husband Charles had spent the last six months of his life in Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s care before passing away four years ago. She was happy to join us and share some thoughts about the experience. A better testimonial than what followed there could not be.
Naturally, it was emotional for Nancy (and everybody else at the table), and though a few tears welled up, it was through mostly smiling Irish eyes that she recalled not only the time spent with Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, but her entire life with Charles.
“I had a wonderful husband,” said Nancy. “We met in Ireland when he came to Cork to attend medical school. I was a nurse at the time. We met; we fell in love…that was it. It’s 47 years now, 44 that we were married, and I had the most wonderful life.”
She spoke of Charles and his work and of their life together in New England and the eventuality of settling here in the Lowcountry. Of course she talked about their children and the ways that Charles inspired them, and punctuated it all with slices of life anecdotes that painted a beautiful picture of a life well spent.
It speaks volumes, doesn’t it? That four years after the fact, this chance encounter with Jenny and Darlene, who were among a group of people only there to see the family through Charles’s last days, would serve as an opportunity for Nancy to reminisce about her late husband happily rather than as a reminder of his passing.
“They were really fantastic,” she said of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. “Tamara was the nurse, and she came regularly, and we had daily help from the volunteers. It was sad to lose him because he was so very special, but hospice was wonderful. I can’t say enough for them. They made his last days very happy.”
Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s staff and services cover a very broad scope, including nurses, social workers, nurse’s aides, a non-denominational chaplain, and about 150 volunteers who fulfill a variety of roles. They’ll sit with the patients, run errands, play cards…anything to assist with the patients’ care or give the primary caregivers a break.
Another common misconception about hospice is that it is a single, global organization, or that there is little or no difference between hospice care providers. In fact, according to Schuetz, there are approximately 15 competing hospices operating in the Lowcountry region. However, Hospice Care of the Lowcountry is the only independent, community-based, non-profit hospice in the area that is Medicare and Medicaid certified. “We provide the services they need, the care that they need, whenever they need it,” said Brasington of what she sees as the community-based volunteer model’s greatest advantage over commercial hospices. “We’re not saying to the families, ‘Okay, you’ve had your weekly visit, we’ll see you next time.’ We’re there 24/7.”
Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s services also go way above and beyond the usual physical and medical attention. Some examples are Hos-Pets, a pet therapy program by which specially trained dogs are brought into the patient’s home for companionship, and music therapy. “Our music therapist carries an array of musical instruments, and she’ll go into the patient’s home and play for them or let them play themselves,” said Schuetz. “We have video memoirs too, and they’re amazing. The video producer will interview the patient and let them tell their story in a documentary format. Sometimes they’re funny, and some are very poignant. It’s a wonderful way for the family to keep a lasting memorial.”
While Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s services are reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, as a non-profit it still relies on charitable donations for funding, and some of our area’s most high profile charity events are held in its support. “We have three fundraisers per year,” said Schuetz. These include “Light up the Links” (coming November 12), “Hospice & Hearts—A Red Carpet Affair” at Windows on the Waterway in February, and “Yacht Hop” coming in May.
Yacht Hop is the biggest one according to Schuetz. “It’s so popular and so well-received that some of our yacht owner participants decide that they want to do more. So we created Hop Aboard, a program where the yacht owners will take patients and their families and caregivers out on the water for a few hours. It’s amazing to see how the worries, pain and tension seem to float away when they’re out on the ocean, even if it’s only for a few hours.”
If you’ve never been acquainted with Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, you have an excellent opportunity right now with the Light up the Links event (November 12). Don’t worry if you don’t have much of a golf game, you play in the dark so nobody will see! Speaking from experience, it’s great fun and quite enchanting to see a golf course lit up with glow sticks and luminaires while glow-in-the-dark golf balls soar through the air like shooting stars.
More importantly, you’ll be supporting the great work of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry.
“What we’re trying to do is bring as much quality as possible to those last days, weeks, or months,” said Brasington. “We really focus on the living.”
For more information, contact Hospice Care of the Lowcountry at P.O. Box 3826, Bluffton, SC 29910, call (843) 706-2296, e-mail Info@HospiceCareLC.org or visit HospiceCareLC.org.