Compassionate care

Hospice discussed at Ask the Doctor talk

Dr. Michael Grossman, a family practitioner at UP Health System-Bell and the medical director of U.P. Home Health and Hospice, gives a presentation about hospice at Brookridge Heights May 28. Hospice care, which is given to those with a life-limiting diagnosis, is delivered by a team of health care professionals who focus on improving a person’s quality of life and symptom management. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — What can medicine do for those who have a life-limiting diagnosis? What should medical care do if it can’t save a person’s life?

This topic was discussed during an Ask the Doctor presentation on hospice by Dr. Michael Grossman, a family practitioner at UP Health System-Bell and the medical director of U.P. Home Health and Hospice.

The presentation, held at Brookridge Heights May 28, gave attendees a chance to learn more about the care hospice can provide.

Hospice care, which is a team-based approach to caring for those with a life-limiting diagnosis, focuses on managing symptoms and improving quality of life for patients, he said.

“Most doctors are trained in saving lives or at least helping people to control their disease and live much longer. But the truth is, everybody comes to a point — unless they die suddenly — when medicine cannot save your life anymore,” Grossman said. “But medicine shouldn’t stop, we should still care for the patient.”

A nurse chats with a patient. (Myfuture.com photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

Hospice provides palliative care, which places an emphasis on making a person comfortable, rather than using treatments that may come with severe side effects and/or no longer be effective.

“Going to the ER, having surgery and taking lots of medications, there’s a time when that can make you sicker,” Grossman said. “So we practice in hospice something called palliative care, which is comfort care. This is a specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses, focusing on relief of pain and stress.”

While hospice care can only be provided to those who are expected to live six months or less, Grossman emphasized that “hospice is not about death,” rather, it’s about life and “living better with a life-limiting illness,” he said.

A person can start the process of receiving hospice services with a referral from their doctor, or a direct call to a hospice agency.

The agency then visits a person to assess their condition, needs and eligibility for hospice. Hospice patients are most commonly treated in their own homes or place of residence, Grossman said, noting that hospice can also be administered at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or hospice houses such as the Trillium House in Marquette.

Hospice patients are cared for by many professionals, as a hospice team can involve a medical director; a person’s physician; a social worker; physical, speech and occupational therapists; pharmacists; nutritionists; nurses; home health aides; a chaplain and others who work to care for each aspect of a person and family’s well-being.

Hospice care uses a person and family-centered approach to treatment, he said, noting “we try to establish what the person’s goals are” in hospice.

The team asks a person about what’s important to them, what they would like to know about their diagnosis, what type of physical, social, emotional or spiritual pain they may be experiencing, and other questions to help guide a person’s care.

One of the most important questions to ask, Grossman said, is: “What would a good day look like for you?” This simple question can help inform hospice providers and a person’s loved ones about their desires and priorities in daily life, he said.

With a team of professionals from many disciplines, hospice can provide patients and their families with medical, social, emotional and spiritual care.

“The main symptom that we deal with is pain. And not just physical pain from arthritis or muscle sprains or a tumor, but also emotional and social pain,” Grossman said.

Hospice team members can also arrange supportive services and help a person and their family manage the often complex legal and financial planning processes that come at the end of life.

Those in hospice can also limit their visits to the hospital and emergency room, he said, as hospice nurses and doctors are on-call to care for a person.

For example, if a person falls and gets a scrape or contracts a bacterial infection, an on-call hospice provider can come to administer needed care and medications, rather than having the person go to the hospital or emergency room.

Overall, Grossman emphasized that hospice care is “not just about dying with dignity; it’s about living with dignity before you die.”

“It’s not about a shortened life — we don’t try to end anyone’s life sooner — it’s about a better life,” Grossman said. “And many people with heart disease and lung disease actually live longer when they come into hospice because we manage their symptoms as opposed to just doing more tests and giving more medication.”

Brookridge Heights hosts monthly Ask the Doctor presentations in conjunction with U.P. Home Health and Hospice, typically on the last Tuesday of each month.

For more information on Brookridge Heights, call 906-464-6747 or visit www.milestoneretirement.com/senior-living/mi/marquette/brookridge-heights/

For more information on U.P. Home Health & Hospice, call 906-225-4545 or visit www.uphomehealth.org.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.