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Improving end of life quality goal of Copper Country programs

November 9, 2010
By MICHAEL H. BABCOCK Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - When options to save someone's life are exhausted, it can be a very difficult time for both the victim and the family as they try to move forward.

However, there is help. Palliative care is something that's becoming and more popular, helping people to live what little life they have left with as high of quality as possible.

November has been declared as National Hospice/Palliative Care Month, and is a great chance for people to learn of the importance of the work that gets done.

"Palliative is the opposite of curative, so when a patient and their loved ones elect palliative, they have a terminal diagnosis," said Tammy Carroll, director of home health, hospice and home services at Portage Health. "The focus changes from trying to cure, to providing comfort. Doing whatever it takes to make the person comfortable."

Carroll said it's a challenging process when you stop worrying about prolonging life, but it's a natural thing.

"We're worried about making the time you have the best quality possible," she said. "It's all about living, instead of focusing on death. There are moments where it's difficult, but it's very rewarding."

Such care can happen at home, at offices or somewhere like the Omega House, where help is available at all hours of the day.

"We try to help people live life as full as possible until their last moment," Carroll said.

Workers all across the Copper Country have to work in these situations day in and day out, emotionally attaching themselves to people that they know won't be around, but also working with families who need them.

"It takes a special person to work in hospice, but those that do, love it," said Carroll. "There's something special about being part of the dying process.

"To be a part of that natural stage with people is very unusual, and can be very neat."

Many people will make amends in this stage of their life, and speak to topics they've avoided their entire life.

"People have a tendency to say things they're really feeling with their heart," Carroll said. "Things they usually wouldn't have."

The staff is available to deal with emotional issues, but it's also important that they keep the patient comfortable as they deal with discomforts such as pain, nausea and constipation.

"Staff becomes experts on how to deal with those symptoms."

The family is also an important point, as staff, including a social worker, will spend a lot of time with families, helping them through the process.

"We work very closely with the family," said Carroll. "As they get into the final stages, the amount of care they require becomes overwhelming, so we have a lot of resources that can help."

Volunteers can help the family deal with day-to-day activities while a patient is sick, and staff also keeps up with the family after dead.

"The social worker helps families work through a lot of emotional issues," Carroll said. "We continue to see the family for 13 months after because a lot of times the one-year anniversary is very tough for a lot of people."

To keep these programs going takes a lot of volunteers and donations from the community, something Carroll said they're always looking for.

"A lot of people want to volunteer and make a difference in their community, and some opportunities might not seem as rewarding as people would like," Carroll said. "Hospice volunteers always report they find the work very, very rewarding.

"These people are generally in a very unique position where they make everything they say count."

If one is interested in volunteering, contact Carroll at 483-1160.

Michael H. Babcock can be reached at mbabcock@



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