Volunteers key to Tahoe Forest Hospice program caring for region’s ill | SierraSun.com
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Volunteers key to Tahoe Forest Hospice program caring for region’s ill

Tim Hauserman
Special to the Sun
From left, Lauren Kilborne; Johnanna Koch, MD, Medical Director for Hospice; Chelsea Roth, MSW; Laura Bornstein, Interim Bereavement Coordinator; Heidi Blide, RN; Susie Wright, RN; Peggy Jones, RN, Clinical Manager; Pam Thomas; and Kristen Henderson, RN, are among Tahoe Forest's hospice staff.
Courtesy Tahoe Forest Health System |

‘Chance to get a reprieve’

Tim Hauserman offered his own thoughts for this story about hospice and his experience:

“My Dad passed away in March 2014 in Sutter Creek, Calif. Before he died, he was the beneficiary of hospice, and even more lucky to have his granddaughter Caela White running the hospice program for the county he was living in (Caela used to be a nurse at the Tahoe Forest Hospice before moving back to her childhood hometown).

“Caela says, ‘Grandpa liked the people who came in and were kind to him. They would bathe him, take care of his wounds and make sure that everything he needed was delivered. The volunteers also gave the family members a chance to get a reprieve.’”

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Hospice has been an important part of medical treatment for decades.

Roughly 1.5 million people —about a third of the people who die in the United States each year — use hospice services, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

But those who care for the ill locally with Tahoe Forest Home Health and Hospice say many people do not understand how hospice works, or only avail themselves of the extensive benefits that it provides when it’s too late.

Tahoe Forest’s program services people in the Truckee and North Lake Tahoe region, and it strives to celebrate life by helping patients who are near the end to live the remainder of their lives as fully as possible, officials said recently.

“We can help them through the journey. We manage all symptoms to get the patient as comfortable for whatever time they have left.”
Susie Wright, RN | Tahoe Forest Hospice

Hospice provides relief for pain and symptoms experienced by the terminally or seriously ill, according to Tahoe Forest, and also provides assistance with the practical and emotional needs of the patient and the family.

Hospice is available in the patient’s home and in assisted living facilities, according to Tahoe Forest, and is covered by Medicare and private insurance companies.

‘THE DYING PROCESS’

Bob Livengood’s wife, Anne, died from cancer on Nov. 4, 2014, after almost a year of receiving services of Tahoe Forest Hospice.

“They are just a very caring group of people, willing to do anything to be of service,” Livengood says. “I would recommend them to anybody. My wife just loved them.”

The hospice staff came and visited Anne on a regular basis at their home near Graeagle. Livengood says, “the medications they prescribed for her kept her very comfortable. Most of the time she was pain free, I was very thankful for that. She wasn’t expected to live as long as she did.”

When the goal of treatment shifts from curing the illness to providing comfort, it’s time to consider hospice.

A patient can go on hospice and come off it at any time if conditions improve. In fact, many patients do feel better after receiving the comforting treatment of hospice.

Susie Wright, a registered nurse with Tahoe Forest Hospice, says hospice can, “educate the family on the dying process. We can help them through the journey. We manage all symptoms to get the patient as comfortable for whatever time they have left.”

In addition to nursing care, Tahoe Forest Hospice has a medical social worker on staff, home health aids to assist with personal care and bathing, and bereavement counselors who keep in touch with the family for more than a year after the patient’s death.

The program’s Medical Director, Dr. Joy Koch, is certified in palliative and hospice care.

The process begins with an information gathering phone call, followed by a meeting with the family.

All hospice patients need a referral. Sometimes a doctor will refer the patient to hospice, and other times the family itself is the force behind getting their family member on the program.

Anyone in the community can access the services if one needs them.

Wright says, “people think that if you say hospice, you are giving up, but the sooner we get involved, the more we can help.

‘KNOWLEDGE IS FREEDOM’

The goals of hospice are simple: to make the patient comfortable so he or she can live his or her last days with as little suffering as possible, and “helping the family and patient take the fear out of it,” Wright said.

She added, “We help people understand and have control over the whole process. Knowledge is freedom to deal with what you have to deal with.”

Hospice makes a tough situation better. It makes for better good-byes. As Livengood says, “people have to do what is best for the patient. I‘m glad we took that course of action to go on hospice when we did.”

The Tahoe Forest Hospice program, based in Truckee, serves the Truckee/North Tahoe/Incline Village region and communities in Plumas and Sierra counties. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Two Hospice thrift stores — in Truckee and Kings Beach — largely support operations. How can you help? Donations of gently used items are welcome at both stores, which are open to shop. Call 530-582-4947 for details.

The Hospice and Home Health programs have a volunteer base of more than 40 people, according to Tahoe Forest. A variety of volunteer opportunities are available, including working directly with patients and families, bereavement support, administrative and office support, and fundraising.

Visit tfhd.com/os-hospiceservices.asp or call 530-582-3534 for details.

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at writeonrex@yahoo.com.


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