The ability to feel such a range of emotions is what makes us human regardless if what you are feeling is happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, disappointment, etc. But when it comes to the topic of terminal illness, it is fair to say that you feel an array of emotions with the most prevalent being fear and overwhelming sadness. As humans, we are aware of the fact that all life must come to an end but, when we know that time is right around the corner, especially when one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is hard to live life without thinking of such a diagnosis. But what do you do when you or a loved one is facing a life-threatening illness? In this blog post, I will talk about some of the options that are available for someone who is terminally ill and is residing in Houston.
Though there are several ways people cope with such life-changing news, I am not here to tell you what the right way to react is as there is no such thing as a “right way”. You can cry, try to not think about it, or swing into action. Whatever you choose to do that helps you cope and grief, I am here for it.
What is end-of-life care and what do I need to do?
A prevalent issue when it comes to moving forward with the knowledge of a terminal illness is sorting out advance directives that ensure a person’s healthcare wishes and end-of-life care are met. It is best to fill out the forms before it comes to this terminal stage. Trust me, it is better to have the uncomfortable conversation of end-of-life care sooner rather than when you feel like you are running out of time. One common advance detective is determining a healthcare proxy or healthcare power of attorney which designates someone to act on the behalf of the ill person when necessary. The other is having a living will which sets the medical wishes to help guide care once a person is unable to make decisions.
When it comes to end-of-life planning, it, unfortunately, is more complicated and stress-inducing than what I believe needs to be. Death is a heavy subject alone but the idea of having to sort many things out before a person passes can make the whole process worse. First, everyone must have a clear idea of the patient’s preferences when it comes to treatment during this stage of their terminal illness. This includes the caregivers, the family members, and anyone else involved. One should have conversations that mention the topics of hospice care, palliative care, spiritual practices, memorial traditions, and more. One must also think about their financial means. Do you have health insurance? If so, will it cover most, if not all, end-of-life care? Do you feel comfortable being a healthcare proxy or comfortable with whom you’ve assigned? My point here is that when it comes to a terminal illness and end-of-life care, communication is key!
What is Hospice Care?
Hospice encompasses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This care can take place at one’s personal home, a nursing home, an assisted living center, or at a hospice residence but, aside from the several options is physical locations, they all typically have a multidisciplinary team that includes doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, counselors, therapists, volunteers, etc. Hospice care offers symptom relief, pain control, and patient-family support. When one is dealing with a terminal illness, it is important to understand that hospice care provides comfort care for the person but doesn’t include attempts to cure the person.
Finding locations in Houston:
I was able to find a National Hospice Locator already tailored to Houston, TX. There were about 53 results but, what I love about this locator is that you can add multiple criteria that then allows you to see a more condensed list. This, in turn, allows you to find a Hospice care option much more easily for either you or your loved one. For example, the first criteria tab is labeled “Innovative Practices” and you can select yes or no for questions and characteristics like “Medicare Certified?”, “Pediatric Services”, “Faith Based”, “75+ Certified RNs” and much, much more. Other tabs allow you to select hospice care based on how many patients are served at a time which helps indicate whether it is a large or small locale. You can also check for Accreditation and Memberships, whether it is nonprofit or for-profit, and the type of hospice program (freestanding, hospital based, home health based, or nursing facility based). Here’s the link!
When you scroll to the bottom of the page, it provides all the hospice sites shown on the map in a list form with the location’s name, address, and phone number. If you click on a specific location found in the list, it would take you to view all the criteria specific to the selected hospice location as well as their website link. In other words, one is clearly able to see how a place measures up to most, if not all, questions and concerns you may have to help you determine if the place is the right fit.
If you are looking for options other than Hospice, here is another directory by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). This directory can be used for any location in the US but, what I wanted to bring up is that when one types “Houston”, a lot more results showed up compared to the National Hospice Locator. This option could be helpful if you are planning ahead and have more time to explore all or if you want to see Palliative care or Bereavement Services aside from Hospice.
Towards the end of my second blog post, I briefly talked about the Harris Health System which is a system that helps provide access to quality care for Harris residents. They have expanded their end-of-life services by offering Hospice care to their patients at Ben Taub Hospital, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, and the Quentin Mease Hospital (now an outpatient facility). This is great news as back in 2017, Harris Health treated 150 terminal oncology patients despite being eligible for hospice care according to Harris Health News. It also stated that about 40% of the terminally ill patients died within 30 days after admission into the ICU. Now, patients can be transferred to either an inpatient hospice facility or a home hospice. By expanding their end-of-life care, there is now more affordable access for eligible patients. To be eligible, one must meet the indigent financial requirements set by their financial assistance program. There are other hospitals that offer hospice such as MD Anderson Cancer Center specifically for patients with cancer.
The University of Houston has a Houston Public Media service where I found an article titled “Patients Want To Die At Home, But Home Hospice Care Can Be Tough On Families” where it highlights the option to allow patients to pass while at home rather than being in a hospital. The article talks about how the For-profit hospice industry has grown yet, not many family members are aware that they still have to do a lot of the physical and emotional work that ensures someone a “good death at home”. The article brings up how a Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicated that 7 out of 10 Americans prefer to die at home. I urge people to do their own research and, as a family, decide whether at-home services is truly what they want.
If you are struggling to decide, there are places you can go to in Houston that have different levels of care such as Accredited Healthcare of America. They offer routine home care, continuous care, inpatient care, and inpatient respite care. Check to see what each type of care breaks down into! A similar breakdown is seen in Star of Texas Hospice and Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care of Texas-Houston. What I think makes Seasons stand out though is that they also offer programs such as Open Access which allows patients experiencing intense psychosocial issues to have hospice services earlier, Namaste Care which uses sensory activities for stimulation, relaxation, and comfort for those with dementia, Music Therapy which uses music to console and comfort patients even when they are no longer conscious or speaking, Palliative Care for clinical symptom management, and Cardiac Care for health disease management led by a board-certified cardiologist. They accept Medicare, Medicaid, and the majority of private insurance plans. But guess what? Even if you don’t see your insurance provider in the list offered at the bottom of their page, in many cases Seasons is able to advocate for their patients and secure insurance coverage for them! They are here to help!
Farmer, Blake. “Patients Want To Die At Home, But Home Hospice Care Can Be Tough On Families.” Houston Public Media, University of Houston, 24 Jan. 2020, www.houstonpublicmedia.org/npr/2020/01/24/789958067/patients-want-to-die-at-home-but-home-hospice-care-can-be-tough-on-families/.
“Find a Care Provider.” NHPCO, 10 Aug. 2020, www.nhpco.org/find-a-care-provider/.
GraphicsbyCindy.com. “Finding Care at the End of Life.” Houston Hospice | Accredited Healthcare of America, 8 Feb. 2016, accreditedhospicesofamerica.com/finding-care-end-life/.
“Harris Health Expands End-of-Life Services by Offering Hospice Care.” Harris Health System, www.harrishealth.org/about-us-hh/news/Pages/harris-health-expands-end-of-life-services-by-offering-hospice-care.aspx.
“Harris Health Home.” Home, 2020, www.harrishealth.org/.
“Houston, Texas Hospice Care.” Hospice Analytics, www.nationalhospicelocator.com/hospices/texas/houston.
“Our Services.” Star of Texas Hospice, 15 Oct. 2016, staroftexashospice.com/our-services/.
“Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care of Texas-Houston.” Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, 6 Feb. 2020, www.seasons.org/about/locations/texas-houston/.
Wayne, Melissa, et al. “Late Stage and End-of-Life Care.” HelpGuide, Sept. 2020, www.helpguide.org/articles/end-of-life/late-stage-and-end-of-life-care.htm.
“When a Loved One Is Terminally Ill.” HelpGuide, www.helpguide.org/harvard/when-a-loved-one-is-terminally-ill.htm.