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Offering end-of-life services

The staff of CHI Health at Home & Hospice encourages families not to wait so long before seeking end-of-life services for their loved one.

“Hospice is for anybody who is terminal or with a life-limiting illness, who no longer wishes to receive treatment and has a diagnose of six months or less to live,” said Tami Christianson, social worker and bereavement and volunteer coordinator.

“Don’t wait -- we can get to know the patient better, and help them on the last journey of their life,” she said.

CHI Health at Home & Hospice relies on donations to supplement its programs, such as grief support groups, its volunteer program and mailings. The program’s team includes social workers, nurses, certified nursing assistants, chaplains and the volunteers.

“We can provide medical equipment, a hospital bed, a commode -- any equipment that is needed so the patient can be in their own home,” Christianson said. “We provide nurses on call 24 hours a day. We teach family members to be the caregivers.”

The hospice services also are available to patients living in nursing homes, basic care or assisted living facilities.

“We support their staff, we don’t take that away from them,” she said.

The volunteers play an important role in the hospice program.

“They can volunteer anywhere from one to several hours  per week, depending on what a patient needs and what the volunteer has available,” Christianson said. “They provide emotional support, help with hobbies, and can be there so the patient isn’t left alone.”

The program always is looking for additional volunteers, who are generally assigned one patient at a time.

“Anyone who has been through a death themselves make awesome volunteers -- most volunteers have had a loss in their life and want to give back,” she said.

The Hospice service area includes counties of Stark, Billings, Dunn, Golden Valley, Slope, Hettinger and Morton.

“Hospice neither prolongs life nor hastens death -- the sooner Hospice gets involved, the better the quality of life can be,” she said. “Every family is different -- they are different in what their needs are.”

As soon as the referral is made, the social workers work with the families to determine their needs -- do they need Meals on Wheels, does the patient require pain management or help with bathing?

After the patient has died, hospice offers grief support. Grief support groups meet twice a year or are scheduled as needed.

The Health & Hospice team at Dickinson includes Wendy McCarty, director/social worker; Tami Christianson, social worker; Kim Jones, administrative assistant; Doreen Knutson, Melissa Bennett and Leona Kessel, certified nursing assistants; Astron Daclan and Ryan Robillard, registered nurses and Kari Rothschiller, licensed practical nurse.

“The team is typically in the office in the morning -- we talk about the day and see if there have been any referrals,” McCarty said. “We go for visits within a 60-mile radius of Dickinson -- the weather has been making this a challenge. A lot of our patients live in the rural areas.”

While their responsibilities are different, the team’s goal is the same.

“We strive to help them live as long as they can, as well as they can,” McCarty said. “Dying is a part of life. We want to make sure the experience is the best it can be for the patient and the family.”

Fast-facts about hospice:

* Hospice focuses on caring, not curing.

* Hospice care is provided in the patient’s home, and in hospice centers, hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

* Hospice services are available to patients of any age, religion, race or illness.

* Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, most private insurance plans, HMOs and other managed care organizations.