This week's "My turn" column is by Lola Rathbone, chief executive officer and president of Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care Inc.
I have had the honor and privilege of being the CEO and president of Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care for all of 19 days. No one can fully understand what an honor that is unless he or she has had experience with this truly remarkable organization.
From our humble beginnings in 1983 as a small band of volunteers, Hospice has grown to become the 11th-largest employer in our area. Last year, we provided more than 55,000 visits to 819 hospice patients and families.
As the most successful hospice in New York state, we provided service to 40 percent of the patients who were hospice-eligible in our three-county area, far outreaching the average New York state hospice that only served 22 percent.
How have we achieved such success? The answer is easy _ by lovingly caring for one precious patient at a time. Having proudly served as a member of the staff here for the past 18 years, I can say without hesitation that it is our people that make the difference.
In fact, patients and families tell us time after time that if had they known that our staff would become like family to them, they would have sought hospice much earlier.
There are many misconceptions that people have that cause them to hesitate to call us. A common misconception is that hospice is only for cancer patients.
Only 30 percent of our hospice patients in 2008 had cancer. Most of our hospice patients have a wide variety of diagnoses, from cardiac diseases like congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to liver or kidney disease or a dementia diagnosis.
Many of our patients also are facing the decline of the natural aging process that can lead to frequent emergency room or hospital visits with problems such as pneumonia, urinary infections and weight loss.
The biggest misconception is that people have to only have days or weeks to live or literally have to be "dying" to receive hospice services. In fact, when people wait until this point, they miss out on the majority of benefits that hospice has to offer.
One benefit of coming to hospice sooner is actually longer life. Research has shown that patients with advanced illness who choose hospice services for at least three months outlive patients with the same illness that do not choose hospice.
Sometimes patients do so much better with our TLC and expert care that they actually improve to the point of not needing us any more, and "graduate" from our services.
Not only do they live longer, but they live better. Our clinicians are experts in pain and symptom management. They help patients with physical-comfort issues so that they can attend to the important things they want to achieve in their lives.
Our counseling staff helps families by easing the constant stress that advanced illness can bring. Hospice volunteers and home health aides give families assistance with caregiving and provide much-needed breaks.
In the near future, Catskill Area Hospice will have a full-time medical director who will be available to provide home visits to patients who are no longer able to leave their homes.
Our patients not only live longer and live better, but they actually live less expensively. Hospice provides not only services, but also medications, medical equipment such as oxygen, and medical supplies, at no cost to the patient. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are able to provide other needed items regardless of payment.
Having families regret not coming to hospice sooner has been one of my biggest frustrations. As the leader of this extraordinary organization, it is my mission to eliminate these regrets by making sure that every community member who is in need of our services begins receiving the benefits much sooner in his or her journey.
Anyone can make a referral to hospice. If you have a family member or friend who is facing a serious, progressive illness, making his or her life easier is a good thing.
There are many ways we can help, including connecting people to other community resources. Please call us at 432-5525 to gain information on what options are available. With your help, we can make life easier for everybody "¦ sooner.
You can reach Rathbone at email@example.com. To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 432-1000, ext. 214.