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Hospice care a need in the Latino community

December 10, 2015
Gloria Gutierrez

As a hospice social worker I have had the privilege of being with patients during their final stages of their illness as part of an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, home-health aides and chaplaincy support. Hospice is a Medicare benefit that pays for end-of-life care. Hospice support allows a patient to remain in their home or residential care facility with the support of the clinical team including 24/7 nursing support by consultation and home visits. It provides the patient with medical equipment; such as electric bed with air mattress to prevent bed sores, and oxygen to keep their loved one comfortable. Palliative care is offered through symptom management of pain, nausea, anxiety and physical comfort.

I have provided outreach to the Latino community about hospice services and was supported by the faith-based committee that focused on outreaching to the Latino and African-American communities. My outreach began at St. Anthony de Padua Parish in Menlo Park. Father Fabio Medina supported presentations on hospice services to extraordinary ministers holy Communion and visitors of the sick. Four of the ministers became volunteers to be present with our patients, taking them shopping when they were able to walk and share life reviews of memorable moments in their lives. Our chaplain or I collaborated with the ministers to arrange sacraments for our patients.

Father Fabio also supported on March 6, 2013, the formation of a Bereavement Support Group. We met in the sacristy with parishioners some of whom were spouses of the deceased hospice patients’ family. Another participant’s spouse died at a young age of a sudden illness and did not have time to say goodbye to his family. Grief becomes more conflicted. The support of group members and their sharing of personal stories helps other participants normalize their own grief by listening to another’s similar experiences. Some of the participants are able to say that their anxiety has lessened by talking about their own experiences. Participants also experience spiritual pain. In 2014 the group relocated to the Fair Oaks Community Center near the church. It is hoped that there will be continued collaboration between the parishes.

Father Lawrence Goode and Sister Cecilia Lozano, MMD, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in East Palo Alto also welcomed hospice presentations and two of their ministers of the sick became hospice volunteers. A similar presentation was made to the Spanish-speaking ministries at St. Matthew Parish.

I had the privilege of working with our former RN, Sister Jane Tobin, OSF, her dedication and compassionate care of her patients was an inspiration with the exemplary care she provided to her patients. Jane said that “Hope is what patients and families hold on to until the last minute but at the same time families need to be prepared for the finality of life.” Many times families were waiting for a miracle and she said, “Many times the miracle can be that the patient has no pain.” Jane passed on Aug. 18, 2014.

At our agency the faith-based committee has been dismantled but my collaboration with these parishes continues. There still is a need to provide information about hospice to the Latino community. The California HealthCare Foundation, in its 2012 report “Death in Hospice Care,” reported that only 4 percent of the Medicare beneficiaries who died on hospice were Latino. According the 2010 U.S. Census, 25 percent of the population in San Mateo County is made up of Latinos and in California, Latinos comprise 38.6 percent of the population. Hospice provides dignity and quality of life during the final moments of life and this service needs to be made available to all populations.

Gutierrez, MSW/ASW, is a social worker at Mission Hospice & Home Care in San Mateo. She can be reached at (650) 554-1000. ggutierrez@missionhospice.org.

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