Hospice Savannah reaches out to local Hispanics
Hospice Savannah is a community-based health care organization, certified by Medicare and Medicaid . It provides palliative and end-of-life care to patients regardless of their ability to pay and has achieved many milestones during its 32 years of operation. Its goal is to provide patients with the best services and resources available for living with a life-limiting illness, dying, death, grief and loss.
The agency provides a range of hospice services to a five-county area in southeast Georgia including Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, and Long. With a paid staff of 200 and an additional 250 (+) volunteers serving nearly 2000 hospice and palliative (comfort care) patients each year, southeast Georgia's oldest hospice continues to look for new ways to improve its services.
Judson Hendry, Vice President of Operations for Hospice Savannah, said that a campaign last fall focusing on military veterans and their families was very successful and the agency was now looking for other communities whose needs may have been overlooked in the past.
“We want to introduce our services to the Hispanic families who make their homes here in Southeast Georgia,” Hendry said. “We believe that our emphasis on home-based hospice care is something that Hispanics will appreciate and we are very excited that Mr. Roland Rodriguez, a certified nursing assistant with extensive hospice experience has joined our staff. He is bilingual and is anxious to share the Hospice Savannah story with them.”
Last month, Hendry and Rodriguez met with Samuel Rodriguez, pastor of one the area's largest Hispanic congregations. Pastor Rodriguez assured the men that their services would be especially comforting for Hispanic clients whose culture places a special emphasis on honoring and caring for elderly family members.
But he told La Voz the term “hospice” may be a little confusing for Latin Americans familiar with “hospicios” which serve as orphanages and “asilos” which are homes for the sick and aged in Mexico.
“This kind of service is generally not available in Mexico,” Rodriguez said. “It is very unusual to have healthcare professionals treat this type of patient in the comfort of their homes. I am looking forward to having the Hospice Savannah people come to my church and introduce their services to our congregation.”
Debra Anthony Larson, president and CEO of Hospice Savannah Inc., likes to remind people that hospice is not a brick and mortar structure. She calls it “a philosophy of care”.
““Hospice Savannah does have a Hospice House ( a 28-bed inpatient facility on Savannah's Southside) if patients need that extra level of care and medical expertise,” she said. “But almost all hospice care takes place in the patient's home where he or she can be in familiar surroundings with friends and family.”
Larson said that her agency offers many special services that are not provided by most other hospices in South Georgia.
“Hospice Savannah offers music therapy, story keeping, physical therapy, massage therapy, speech therapy and nutritional counseling,” she said. “We also offer 5-day respite care where we admit the hospice patient into Hospice House for several days to allow family members a short break from their job as primary caregiver.”
Every year, Hospice Savannah sponsors Camp Aloha, a special grief camp for children between the ages of 6 and 17 who have who have lost a friend or family member. Campers participate in a variety of therapeutic activities including art, music, and sports whose focus is on fun but whose goal is to heal the hurt and bewilderment that children feel when a loved one dies.
“Grief and bereavement programs are an integral part of Hospice Savannah, and are available to all members of the community without charge,” Larson said. “Our bereavement counselors and volunteers offer grief support to families and individuals at our Full Circle Counseling Center in Savannah. We also have satellite offices that provide these services in Rincon and Hinesville and last year we offered 375 children’s counseling sessions in the public schools throughout the five counties we serve.”
In her online blog, Larson writes that there are many preconceptions or “myths” about hospice care that she is anxious to correct. Here are a few :
Myth number 1: Choosing hospice means that “I’m giving up.”
“When a cure is no longer possible, Hospice Savannah provides the type of care most people say they want at their end of life – comfort and quality,” Larson said. “Families do not give over control of their loved-ones to Hospice Savannah. Our job is just to enhance what the family has to offer.”
Myth number 2: We don’t have private insurance, so we won’t be able to afford good end-of-life care.
“Hospice care is fully covered by Medicare, by Medicaid, and by most HMO’s and insurance companies,” Larson said. “Hospice Savannah serves everyone equally, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Myth number 3: Being in a great deal of pain is just an expected part of the dying process.
“Hospice Savannah's doctors and nurses are specially trained to control each person's pain while still keeping the patient awake and alert whenever possible,” Larson said.
Judson Hendry said it is important to reassure families that they would never lose control over the care of a loved one should they engage the services of Hospice Savannah.
“The decision to choose hospice care is not set in stone and you can change your mind at any time,” Hendry said. “You can opt out and then come back to hospice care at any time in the future so long as you are medically eligible.”
Hendry also stressed the importance of volunteers, saying it would be impossible for Hospice Savannah to provide their range of services and level of care without the dedicated efforts of hundreds of community volunteers. To meet that need, the agency offers a two-day (16 hour) training course for new volunteers. As part of the agency's Hispanic initiative, Hendry offered a special invitation for bilingual volunteers to receive hospice training so they can volunteer their services to Spanish-speaking patients and their families.
If you would like to learn more about Hospice Savannah or if your church or civic group would like to schedule a community seminar, you are invited to call Sarah Copeland, Community Outreach Coordinator at 912-629-1045.