Hospice continues with mission

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2005

“The sad part is that so many patients in the community and the surrounding areas are not aware of the benefits of hospice,” said Ann Rasberry, Branch Administrator for Wiregrass Hospice. “We want to educate them because we want to take care of patients before the end of their lives.”

Wiregrass Hospice, like other hospices across the nation, exists primarily to fulfill the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of terminally ill patients, their loved ones, and their caregivers.

“It is wonderful because it helps patients and caregivers work through the last days,” said Rasberry.

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According to Rasberry, the combined experience for Wiregrass’ nursing staff if over 150 years.

“That really says a lot about our nursing staff and the skills and experience that we offer and provide our patients,” said Rasberry.

Wiregrass’ accomplishes its goals through its team of caregivers made up of nurses, home health aides, medical social workers, clergy, and volunteers.

Although each member of the Wiregrass family is just as important as the next, the Wiregrass volunteers help take the strain off hospice staff, patients, and their caregivers.

Volunteers help with hospice in one, or several ways. They may work directly with families to provide emotional and practical support, assist staff in the office each week, help the volunteer coordinator promote hospice events, or work with the bereavement coordinator to provide emotional support to family members during their time of bereavement.

“After my husband died in 99, I quit my job because I was going through grief,” said Dorothy Martin. “I started volunteering at the hospital as a Pink Lady in 2000, and then in about May of the same year, I started volunteering here.”

Martin, who has been a Wiregrass Hospice volunteer for five years, credits her decision to volunteer with the emotional healing that she experienced.

“It’s been a most gratifying experience,” she said with a smile. “I think it is what really got me through the grief period (of my husband’s death).”

However, she did not feel this way in the beginning.

“When I first came, I only did arts and crafts,” said Martin. “We would go over to The Epworth House and make token gifts for the patients for the holidays. After a while the (volunteer) coordinator said that we really needed patient volunteers.”

Martin agreed to become a patient volunteer, a person who goes into the home of the patients to give their primary caregivers a break.

“The first patient that I was assigned actually died before I got there,” said Martin.

The next two patients died almost immediately after she began working with them.

“I said no, this is not for me,” said Martin. “I think that was because I was still dealing with my husband’s death.”

Despite her initial reaction, Martin decided to continue volunteering.

Her next patient was a man who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“I can’t even begin to name (what I have gotten out of volunteering),” said Martin. “It really helped me understand the dying process. I can look back on my husband and understand what he was going through.”

She is also appreciative of the relationships that she has developed with other hospice volunteers and staff.

“Mingling with people with the same mind set, and reaching out to others, just draws you closer to the other volunteers,” said Martin.

“Dorothy is my right hand,” said Betty Hale, Wiregrass Hospice Volunteer Coordinator. “If anything comes up, I say, Dorothy would you?”

Hale, who has been employed with the hospice for two and a half years, knows firsthand the benefits of this service.

“I realize the emotional roller coaster that caregivers are on because I was one,” said Hale. “My mother was a Wiregrass patient from 1999 to 2001.”

Hale had been caring for her mother, Willie Pearl Mitchell, a 15 year Alzheimer’s patient, for eight years.

Mitchell’s doctor made the recommendation for Wiregrass Hospice, and after being evaluated by a hospice nurse, she was approved for services.

“The nurses came out twice a week and the home health aid came every day and helped out with her personal hygiene,” said Hale. “Betty Traylor was her social worker and we bonded from the first minute.”

According to Hale, she was always anxious for the Wiregrass staff to get to her home because she was ready to have someone to talk to and visit with.

“There’s something about Wiregrass people,” said Hale. “When you meet them, you automatically become family. I don’t think I would have made it if they had not been there. By the time you reach that point, you know the end is in sight. It is good to have someone to talk to, someone that has knowledge to walk you through it.”

Even after her mother passed, Hale kept in contact with the hospice staff.

“A year after mama died, he (Bill Tucker, Wiregrass Chaplain who conducted her mother’s funeral) called and asked how I was doing,” said Hale. “I told him I was depressed and thinking about going back to work. He suggested that I work here.”

Hale applied for a job in medical records, but because the hospice staff knew her personally, they suggested that she would be ideal for the volunteer coordinator position.

“I think you have to be called – this is a calling to work for a company like this,” said Hale. “You have to have that feeling in your heart, that compassion.”

Martin agrees. “I will do this as long as I am physically able,” she said.

Wiregrass Hospice was formed in the late 1980’s by a group of concerned churches and members of the Dothan community. In order to assist the terminally ill patients of the community, they started Helping Hands, a volunteer hospice.

Because the need for hospice care was greater than they expected, the Southeast Alabama Medical Center agreed to partner with them and start a non-profit hospice that was called Southeast Hospice.

Initially, only cancer patients living within a 20 mile radius of the hospice was admitted. By 1991, the decision to have a community based hospice, rather than a hospital based hospice was made, and Southeast Hospice was converted to Wiregrass Hospice. In 1995, the hospice began providing care for any patient with a terminal illness, not just cancer.

Wiregrass Hospice now has ten branch offices in Alabama and Georgia, and provides daily care for over 450 patients in over 60 counties.

“I can use all of the volunteers that I can get,” said Hale. “If you would like to volunteer with the nursing home projects, please call me here at (334) 875-2120.”