November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a time at Empath Health when we celebrate what makes the care and support provided by our hospice programs unique. Suncoast Hospice, Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough and Tidewell Hospice combine for more than 90 years of experience delivering world-class care to patients and those who love them.
The foundation of the hospice philosophy is a team-oriented approach to care. The model features expert medical treatment, symptom control and pain management along with support for emotional, spiritual and social needs of the patient and family.
We asked two leaders of the Suncoast Hospice Orange Team, Care Team Manager Mary Northrup and Pyschosocial Team Leader Cheryl Libera, to describe the benefits of the team approach.
The Orange Team, which cares for about 150 patients in southernmost Pinellas County, is one of five Suncoast Hospice teams dedicated to home-based patients and their families. There are five other teams that provide care for patients and families in care centers, assisted-living and long-term care facilities and hospitals.
Northrup said working together in an interdisciplinary environment allows each member of the care team to focus on their expertise.
“I address medical issues,” she said. “My job is to make you as comfortable as you want to be. Some of the other things like depression and sadness and all the other things social workers address, that’s not on my radar. They (social workers) are more the head and the heart, and mine’s more the rest of the body. If you just had one person going in, you’d miss all those things. You’d miss the spiritual things, the volunteer opportunities, all of the other things everyone else brings in. I couldn’t imagine this hospice without the team approach.”
Said Libera, “We’re constantly collaborating with the nurses and they with us.”
RNs and Social Workers
Upon a patient’s admission to Suncoast Hospice, the Orange Team schedules a meeting for a registered nurse (RN) and social worker with the patient and primary caregiver. The RN and social worker attend the meeting together to provide a thorough explanation of hospice care and what to expect at the end of life.
At that first visit, the RN and social worker assess the patient’s and caregiver’s needs. If they need a home health aide or certified nursing assistant, spiritual counseling from a spiritual care coordinator or a volunteer to provide companionship, respite or other services, it will be provided. The RN also can refer a patient outside the Orange Team to Suncoast Hospice physical, speech, occupational or respiratory therapy. Integrative medicine, such as music therapy, also is available.
“I always explain in that first visit about the end of life and what happens and letting them know that the only phone call they need to make is to us,” Libera said. “We’ll handle everything else. That’s a tremendous relief for them. You can just see it.”
The RN and social worker lead the patient’s care plan. The nurse normally visits once per week, while the social worker stops by twice per month. The frequency of visits vary based on the needs of the patient.
Guiding the care plan is the question What Matters Most. Whatever the patient needs that day, from pain and symptom management to depression to a special last wish, will be at the top of the team’s to-do list.
Following are descriptions of other key members of the hospice care teams.
The team has a hospice physician and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) on staff. They are available for medication management, symptom control, crisis care and wound care. They make house calls when needed.
Home Health Aides/Certified Nursing Assistants
Suncoast Hospice provides patients a home health aide (HHA) or certified nursing assistant (CNA) for up to five days per week. The HHA or CNA offers assistance with bathing and hygiene and can do light housekeeping chores.
Spiritual Care Coordinator
A non-denominational spiritual care coordinator is available to discuss spiritual issues with patients and families. They can refer a patient to a Catholic priest or Jewish rabbi if requested. The spiritual care coordinator and social worker collaborate to meet any bereavement needs of family members before the patient passes away. They also stay in touch with the family for the first three months after the patient’s death until Suncoast Hospice bereavement services begin.
A volunteer coordinator connects with the patient and caregiver after the initial meeting with the RN and social worker to offer services provided by a robust group of Suncoast Hospice volunteers. Volunteers run errands, help with transportation and visit patients to allow caregivers an opportunity to leave home for short periods. Veteran to Veteran volunteers offer special service and honors to veteran patients, and teen volunteers deliver birthday boxes to brighten a patient’s day.
To find out more about Suncoast Hospice and its team approach to hospice care, visit SuncoastHospice.org/Our-Team-Approach.